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All Out of Breath: Christian Moralism and the Gospel

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV).

In an attempt to challenge myself this year, I have registered to run a half marathon in October. I am nervous to say the least because I have never considered myself much of a runner, especially when it comes to distance running.

But I am also very excited!

I am excited to try something new; to push myself to accomplish a goal and experience a challenge that I had in the past considered too great for me to achieve. It will be an experience for sure, but I wouldn’t be as excited as I am if I were doing this alone.

Because I’ll be training for and running this half marathon with an experienced marathon runner; someone who knows what they’re doing and can help me learn, I am confident that though it may be difficult, it will be possible (even for an inexperienced runner like me).

As with most things in life, if we set about doing something with the wrong focus or a lack of understanding, guidance, and direction, we will likely fall to the wayside, get discouraged, and more often than not, quit.

Unfortunately, this kind of discouragement can be seen within the church today.

In an article published by CNN in May of 2015, Religious Editor Daniel Burke explains that millennials are leaving the church in droves…and not just the church, but the Christian faith entirely.

A survey of 35,000 American adults shows that the Christian percentage of the population has dropped to 70.6% [in 2015]. In 2007, the last time Pew [Research Center] conducted a similar survey, 78.4% of American adults called themselves Christian.

Daniel Burke, CNN

Though this is concerning, and though we can safely assume that this has only worsened over the last 3-4 years, what really troubled me about this article was Burke’s definition of ‘the Christian life;’ the life that these American adults are walking away from.

At its core, Christian life is a set of sacred traditions linking generations of sacraments and Sunday school lessons, youth ministry morals and family gatherings sanctified by prayer.

Daniel Burke, CNN

After circling the issue, Burke never really landed on a solid explanation for this decline in church attendance and religious affiliation throughout western cultures. However, with Christianity summed up to be nothing more than sacred traditions, sacraments, lessons, and morals, I think it is safe to say that the reason millennials and every other generation alike are dropping out of the ‘race marked out for us’ (Hebrews 12:1, NIV) is because they’re all out of breath, trying to run a race with their eyes fixed on morality instead of on Jesus with little to no Biblically-grounded understanding, guidance, or direction regarding the Gospel of true hope and freedom.

Since Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2, NIV) and since without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6, NIV), when the roots of Christianity are grounded in the do’s and don’ts of Scripture rather than in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are bound to lose hope and run ourselves all out of breath while chasing this illusion of Christian moralism.

Christian moralism

We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:15-16, NIV).

There is this widely popularized and accepted message within many churches today that we need to be and even can be ‘a better person.’ This kind of mentality and approach to the Christian walk subtly identifies the Bible as a mere set of moral guidelines designed to tell us what to do and what not to do in order to be a Christian, thus making mankind the subject and intention of Scripture rather than the glory of God displayed in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6, NIV).

When I first considered this in my own life, I immediately self-justified; believing that I have never and would never believe that the Bible was about me and my moral compass.

“I don’t do that,” I would think to myself.

“I know that it is by grace that I am saved and that it is only by that grace that I am a child of God. I know that I am not saved by my own works.”

When I really stopped to think about it though and when I considered whether the truths that I claimed to believe about grace and hope and unconditional love actually manifested themselves in my life or not, I came to the painful realization that deep down, ‘being a better person’ had become the root of my faith instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thus my life began producing fruits such as anxiety, perfectionism, fear, and pride instead of the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV).

You can grow up in a church, hear a Gospel about freedom, and still work your tail off trying to maintain the image that you’re a good person.

Michael, American Gospel, 2019)

Claiming a Gospel of freedom while at the same time running myself ragged, I would try to achieve this ‘next level’ of Christian moralism. And so, church or anything else related to it became a place where I could feel better about myself; where I could listen to a message that would fill my tanks for another week of one failed attempt after another, and when I did fail I would mentally beat myself over the head with an imaginary rolled up newspaper like Edna did in The Incredibles, telling myself that I needed to ‘pull myself together!’

Ultimately, Christ became obsolete in my faith while I set my focus and hope entirely on my own morality, which dictated how I felt about myself, how I thought others viewed me, and sadly, how much or how little I believed God loved me.

So this begs the question – why do we do anything at all?

Why do we do certain things like pray, read our Bibles, serve, or minister to the lost?

Why don’t we do other things like lie, cheat, or steal?

Why are we baptized?

Why do we take part in communion?

Why do we tithe or fast?

What is the motivation for our obedience?

Because it is not the actions themselves that are the problem. The Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20, the principles found in the Proverbs, and the instruction of the Epistles are all good and necessary. Even Christ said that he did not come to abolish them [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17, NIV).

The problem lies in our motivation behind submitting to these commands and guidelines. When our motivation for obedience is anything but a deep love for Christ and a recognition of our need for grace, we become easily prone to the tangles of moralistic legalism and/or the trappings of prosperity gospel.

If we don’t know why we condone certain behaviors and condemn others, then we are blindly living by a moral code yet calling it gospel.

A loveless gospel and a gospel-less love

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9-12, NIV).

Action grounded in love is what makes up the Gospel, for God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son to die on the cross for our sins (John 3:16, NIV).

We cannot preach love without the Gospel and we cannot share the Gospel without love. It is because He first loved us that we experience any love for Him at all (1 John 4:19, NIV), and it is because we love Him that we obey His commands (John 14:15, NIV).

So when we dismiss love as our foundation and cause for doing anything at all in Jesus’ name, we eliminate the power of the Gospel in our lives and in our ministries.

When we act out of a deep love for Christ and when we resist the temptations of worldly lusts and sinful pleasures because our love for Christ is so deep that even the thought of disobeying or dishonoring Him with our actions or lack thereof is more costly than the pleasure we might gain, we begin living by grace and love rather than by a moralistic code of religious do’s and don’ts.

It is when we stop trying to ‘live’ the Gospel or ‘do’ the Gospel that we are able to simply receive the Gospel of Christ’s grace fully in faith.

When we dismiss love as our reason for obedience, that is when we move into a moralistic legalism motivated by a list of do’s and don’ts and when someone or even ourselves deviates from that code, harshness and austerity follows with no consideration for Christ, His grace, or the Gospel.

There’s a flip-side to this though, because on the opposite end of this spectrum is a love separated from the Gospel.

While a loveless Gospel leads to moralistic legalism, a Gospel-less love leads to the prosperity gospel; a gospel that preaches that Christ died in order that we might be happy, healthy, and wealthy and not because we were dead in our trespasses and in desperate need of a Savior (Ephesians 2:1, NIV).

So we see that anything read in Scripture that is severed from the Gospel of Jesus Christ incarnate come down to live a perfect life, die a sinner’s death, be buried and raised again in absolute victory over sin and death to give us new life and hope in Him alone…when we detach anything in Scripture from this foundational truth, we miss the truth entirely because it is the Gospel alone that can move us confidently and humbly down the straight and narrow path that leads to life (Matthew 7:14, NIV).

In a documentary title American Gospel: Christ Alone, Pastor Phill Howell explains that the Christian life is like a railroad track. We are set on the right path and shown the way to go, but it is the Gospel that is our engine and fuel; the thing that actually moves us down the tracks.

Yet so often in Christian circles today, people are being shown the way to go (the good things that mark a Christian life), but are not being introduced to or reminded of the means by which to move forward (the Gospel of Jesus Christ), leaving them even more helpless than before.

a Christ-centered gospel

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, NIV).

The message that we need to be, or even can be a better person is the most hopeless, damning message anyone could ever hear because it neglects who we are while focusing on what we do.

The Bible circles the reality that we face a much bigger problem than the ones that manifest themselves in our actions and behaviors over and over again.

Christ did not die to help you be a better person.

He died to save us from the sin that we were powerless against, and to be painfully honest, He died to save us from the sin that we loved, and still love.

That’s the only reason sin has any power over us after all…because we love it and it bears no real consequence to us because we have not perceived the great love of Christ displayed in the Gospel.

So then it is passages like Matthew 5:17-48 that rather than helping us make better choices are actually there to remind us of and show us the severity of our inherent sin, our natural wretchedness, and our innate frailty in order to bring us back to our knees in desperate need of grace!

Unfortunately, when all we hear in church sermons and podcasts and lectures is how to not be sexually immoral, how to pray better, how to suffer well, how not to be anxious or depressed, how to have a godly relationship, or how to be faithfully single, etc. without the message ever really coming back to the Gospel, we are set on a path that leads to one of two tragic destinations – pride and/or despair.

On the one hand, when we are told to ‘be better, and here’s how’ without any consideration for our need of grace, pride will likely harden our hearts and convince us that we’ve got this; that we’re fine and that our morality has and will continue to save us; that we don’t need grace or forgiveness for something that we don’t believe we’ve done based on our own standards and that there is no need for help with something that we believe we can achieve on our own.

Yet on the other hand, when we begin to see how helpless and weak we are against our inherent sin and are confronted with the bleakness of our iniquity and see its stark contrast against the holiness of God, our hearts whither in despair, turning to the empty promises of our own morality which has no real power to save in and of itself, but condemns us nonetheless with lies that we didn’t try hard enough, that we didn’t have enough faith, that we didn’t pray enough, tithe enough, fast enough, or read the Bible enough.

The Bible tells us in Matthew 5:48 to ‘be perfect, therefore, as our heavenly Father is perfect.’ We know that this is impossible. If we have any recollection or understanding of our own sinful ways at all, then we know that if this were the standard (which it is), then we are, without question, hopeless. We know that no degree of moralistic achievement or good standing will do us any good, because even the righteous acts of man are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6, NIV).

Yet, if we look back several verses, we will read the life-giving words of Christ saying that though he did not come to rid us of the requirement of perfection according to God’s Law, He did come to fulfill that requirement for us (Matthew 5:17, NIV).

Therefore, we know that to follow Christ is not to be a better person by way of our own efforts, but to love and be in relationship with the only person who could ever completely fulfill God’s requirement for holiness and righteousness.

Instead of asking ourselves ‘what would Jesus do?’ and attempting to do that, the Gospel points us back to what Jesus has already done and then tells us to believe in that!

Christianity only become unattractive when we take away the only attractive thing about it, which is Jesus Christ and the Gospel of His undying love, grace, and mercy for those who are least deserving (all of us).

The beauty of the Gospel and the reason it should be at the center of all that we do is said perfectly in Romans 5:8 and 10 that while we were still sinners,Christ died for us. Therefore, if while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

This Christian life does not neglect or sugar coat the reality that we will never be good enough. Instead of putting before us all these sacred traditions, sacraments, lessons, and morals and giving us this false hope that we can actually achieve reconciliation on our own by following these ’10 steps to a better life,’ the Gospel tells us the truth about who we areentirely sinful and totally incapable of saving ourselves.

Yet it goes on to remind us of a love and a grace that is far greater than all of our failures, all of our wretchedness, all of our frailty, and all of our wickedness.

We are only reminded of this beautiful grace and love that saved us even when we were God’s enemies when we return daily to the Gospel, so that when we do get discouraged by our sin and when we do falter on the edge of despair, we can look back and remember that if He loved us when we were opposed to Him, how much more shall we be saved from our present sin through His life which He freely gives to us.

If you read this and found that any of it resonated with you, please know that there is hope!

You don’t have to fight a losing battle against your sin any longer. You don’t have to bend under the weight of the pride that burdens your heart.

There is freedom in the Gospel of Jesus Christ! So return to it. Return to the good news that we were saved by no attempt or effort or even desire on our part, but entirely by the goodness and grace and pleasure of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So let us throw off everything – all the moralistic legalism, prosperity gospel, pride, and despair – that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us. Let the joy and peace of knowing this Gospel fill your lungs with new breath that you may run with perseverance, fixing your eyes on Jesus Christ alone.

And the Wind Died Down

Only when we come to recognize and embrace the sweetness of Christ’s grace in the hard times are we able to rejoice in the richness and depth of His grace in the good times.

As the title of my website might suggest, the story of Peter walking on water in Matthew 14 is my favorite story in the Bible. I have realized over the last couple of years how rich this story is with meaning; with truths of grace and mercy and hope in every word.

We can read a story such as this so many times, year after year, and yet, in a single moment, we can read it again and find new meaning and new significance.

When I first started writing, it was like my ‘walking on water’ moment; the moment I knew God was telling me to step out of my comfort zone and walk in faith; to trust Him with the story that He had given me and surrender all that I had gone through and was learning to the purposes of His good and perfect will.

For it is in Him that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Unfortunately, as we human beings often do, I got distracted. I started writing for my own purposes; desiring the approval of those around me more than God’s approval, seeking to write and encourage in ways that I saw best, and following the advice of others rather than trusting in God’s perfect wisdom.

This wandering was not just in my writing though, but in my relationships with others, my walk with the Lord, and in my pursuit of joy and peace.

The words of Robert Robinson’s hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing rang so true in my life at that time – prone to wander, Lord I feel it // prone to leave the God I love.

So with eyes averted and devotion divided, when the wind and waves came, I became afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30)

grace upon grace

In perfect wisdom and love, God used Peter’s failure and mine alike to loudly proclaim His infinite grace. As author C.S. Lewis puts it –

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

And so it was in those moments when I felt way in over my head; drowning in a storm of my own making filled with lies of disappointment, fear, and failure that God spoke the loudest; where grace became the only solid ground on which I could stand.

I cherish those seasons of pain and uncertainty in my life the most though because it is in those moments that leave us stunned and without words that the Lord speaks the loudest.

It is in the moments when we have no where left to turn that His open arms become a sweet refuge.

It is when we are broken that He mends us and makes us whole.

It is when we are empty that He fills us.

And it is only after we have been through a storm that we are able to look back and recognize His saving grace.

and the wind died down

As I look back on 2018, I see beautiful moments of friendship, growth, joy, and hope, as well as tough seasons of anxiety, fear, and doubt. However, more than all of these, I see the unparalleled grace, mercy, and patience of the Lord.

I see my Savior; my Redeemer; the Rescuer of my soul, who despite my moments of resentment and unfaithfulness, never left my side.

When I was broken, He made me whole again.

When I was empty, He fulfilled my every need.

When I felt alone, He comforted me.

When the silence seemed overwhelming, His voice rang loud and clear.

And now, as I look back on the good and bad of 2018 and embrace the Lord’s goodness in the toil and joys alike, I feel the wind dying down around me and grace and peace in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus my Lord (2 Peter 1:2).

It is important though to remember that these seasons of turmoil and rest; of raging storms and quiet waters, all point to a greater reality.

In the storms of life, God loudly proclaims to our bruised and broken spirits that this is not all that there is; that though these sorrows may be painful, they are light and momentary nonetheless.

Storms remind us that we have the hope of eternal and perfect peace in Christ Jesus still waiting for us.

And in the same way, when we are granted seasons of rest and the storms of life die down around us, we are reminded that the good things in this world are but murmurs of the greater weight of glory that is yet to come.

And it is when we recognize this and embrace it in every season of life that we are truly able to rejoice in Christ Jesus; thanking Him with joy and thanksgiving for His good and perfect gifts and sitting back, beaten and bruised by the storms of life to worship Him still.

One of my favorite quotes by John Owen says that ‘beholding the glory of Christ in this life is preparation—small “dawnings of eternal glory”—for the joys of heaven, where we will see Christ in His glory fully.’

This life will be filled with good and bad; with joys and toil, happiness and sorrow. This is simply the reality of our human condition. However, as we learn to recognize and embrace the sweetness of God’s grace in our joys and sorrows on earth, we are preparing our hearts for the day of rejoicing when we will fully behold His glory; when the dawning turns to day, the storm [sin] is silenced forever, and we enter into ‘the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. We will come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. We will come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel’ (Hebrews 12:22-24).

We will be Home, where joys abound and the wind is no more.

Let Love Fill You With Christmas Joy This Year

Here we are, just about a week away from Christmas. Dreams of mistletoe and presents tickle the mind as wafting smells of Christmas baking and sounds of holiday singing mingle through the air. The thought of a couple days off from work build with excitement as plans to head home for the holidays receive their final instruction.

For some however, in fact, most, there can be some anxious thoughts surrounding the holidays as well. While this might not be the case for everyone, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we all experience a degree of anxiety when approaching the many family reunions around Christmas time. Because of this, it can be hard to feel the joy of the season; to rejoice as the shepherds did with great delight when the very first Christmas had finally arrived.

As we search for and try to maintain the essence of joy this holiday season, we would be wise to consider the role that love plays in bringing about such season’s greetings. In order to address love as a means of Christmas joy, we must look at Love itself and His first appearance on that oh so holy night.

Based on the December 13, 2018 article by David Mathis, here are three truths to keep in mind this Christmas season.

the first Christmas.

Philippians 2:6-7 says that Christ, ‘being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man.’

We don’t often consider this passage as one to be read during the holidays, but Philippians 2:6-7 is probably one of the most ‘Christmas-y’ passages in the Bible. Not only is this an account of Jesus’ birth, thus reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas, but it also gives us a look at the heart behind Christmas; at the actual essence of that which we are celebrating.

It was not Christ’s impulse to maintain his own rights and privileges as God that brought about the first Christmas, but rather it was His humbled mindset to inconvenience himself and sacrifice his own comfort for the greater gain of mankind (David Mathis).

Instead of grasping for privilege, Christ emptied himself of his own rights.

Therefore, if we are to be of the same ‘mind’ or ‘disposition’ as Christ, we must start by ‘looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:4-5).

The call to love begins here, for love does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5), but desires to serve, love, and benefit those around them. This kind of love then, when grounded in Christ Jesus who is the true centerfold of Christmas, is displayed in us when we get outside of our own interests, comforts, desires, frustrations, rights, and/or preferences and look beyond ourselves to the interests of others, thus sparking the truest kind of Christmas joy in our hearts.

spend and be spent…joyfully.

2 Corinthians 12:15 says that ‘I [Paul] will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?’

In this passage and in his ministry to the people of Corinth, Paul is gladly displaying his love for them by spending and being spent on their behalf.

Do you ever feel spent? Do the holidays leave you feeling utterly exhausted and in need of a vacation from your vacation? Are there times when you wonder if it is all truly worth it; worth the stress, the exhaustion, the irritation, the effort…?

Such feelings of exhaustion and ‘being spent’ are in fact precious in God’s sight and honoring to Him as we image forth His Son, but only when we do so out of a strength and love grounded in Him. It is when we start serving and striving out of our own strength and for our own self-glorification that we draw the attention away from Christ and dishonor Him.

If we look not only at Paul’s ministry, but at the ministry of Christ as well which Paul was imitating, we see such an example of how we are to embrace costly and inconvenient personal losses of time, energy, attention, possessions, money, comfort, and peace of mind for the sake of others. We can only do this well and in a way that pleases the Lord if we do so out of a deep love for Him and an understanding of His sufficient love for us.

This made me think of an article by Bonnie McKernan that reminds us of what it means to look like Christ. ‘It might be letting others lead when I feel the most equipped, or leading when I feel most unable, because God’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It might be keeping quiet when I feel like shouting, or loudly proclaiming when I feel too timid to even whisper. It might be serving others when I most want to be served; it might be resting when serving draws people to me rather than to Christ…’ all of this to the glory of Christ and for the benefit of those around us, including those that are hard to love.

As we look to the glory of God and the interests of others, we imitate the humility of Christ, which in infinite wisdom and love, was displayed for us on the very first Christmas. As we gladly spend and be spent for others, we can remind ourselves of the truth and encouraging words found in Acts 20:35 – ‘for it is more blessed to give than to receive.’

remember your great and eternal possession

Hebrews 10:34 says that ‘we know that we ourselves have a better possession and an abiding one.’ Abiding in this passage is synonymous with ‘lasting’ or ‘eternal.’

When God is our heavenly treasure, the foundation on which our ‘right’ as His sons and daughters rest; when our source of love, energy, compassion, provision, comfort, and peace of mind are in Him, our wells will never run dry and we will be enabled to love without fearing being loved any less, because His love is perfect, unfailing, and sufficient (Jeremiah 31:3, 1 John 3:1).

So often the reason we fail to love others well is because we feel violated in some way; we feel wronged, misjudged, unfairly critiqued, and the victim of malicious intent. However, when we boil these feelings down to their truest belief, what we will often find is fear. We fear exposure. We fear being loved less because of what someone might rightly or wrongly believe about us. We fear the pain of feeling like a failure or a disappointment, and we fear humiliation.

There is no fear in love though, because perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). And there is no love that is perfect apart from the love of Christ Jesus who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself on our behalf by taking the form of a servant and being born in the likeness of man.

When our love for others is found in, grounded upon, and sustained by the love we receive from the Father, we will be enabled and strengthened to endure beyond the point where we’ve just about had enough, and love others from a place of true Christmas joy.

The Supremacy of God’s Word – Part II

This is the second part of a two-part series on the supremacy of God’s Word. After seeing a new resource for young adults called The Bible Study by Zach Windahl, I recognized four fundamental errors regarding our approach to reading God’s Word.

In the first part of this series, I addressed the areas of Presumed Authority and our Fear of Discomfort. In this article – The Supremacy of God’s Word, Part II – I will be discussing the issues surrounding our tendency to add to the Bible remedies of euphoria and mountain top experiences, exciting encounters, and spiritual highs as well as our growing propensity towards ‘the Instagram bible.’

the bible and…

Windahl decided to move to Australia to spend time only in God’s Word; reading the Bible for 70 hours every week!  As he explains his decision to move to Australia and the impact that it had on his life and faith, he makes the point very clear that it was in fact, life changing.

I greatly appreciate and applaud Windahl’s dedication to the study of Scripture and I think it is incredible that he utilized the resources, time, and opportunities that he had to pursue deep, personal study and understanding of the Bible. However, there is something that I wish he would have made more clear.

When it comes to true change, there is no ‘and…’ The Word of God which reveals the glory of Jesus Christ stands alone, for the Lord is exalted over all nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth (Psalm 113:4-6, NIV)?

The Bible drives this point over and over again throughout the entirety of Scripture. There is no one and no thing like our God. The holy Word of God stands alone when it comes to true, deep heart change (ref. Jeremiah 10:6; 1 Samuel 2:2; Deuteronomy 33:26, 3:24, NIV).

Ezekiel 36:25-27 says that it is the Lord who will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; He will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. He will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; He will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And He will put His Spirit in you and move you to follow His decrees and be careful to keep His laws.

So often we feel it necessary to add to Scripture the remedies and euphoria of mountain top experiences, exciting encounters, and spiritual highs. Experiencing God and encountering his glory are good things, however they are not what actually change our hearts.

2 Corinthians chapter three reminds us that it is only when we turn to the Lord that the veil over our hearts and minds is removed and we are able to, with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory; being transformed into his image with an ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:12-18, NIV).

It is the glory of Jesus Christ which stands above all else that saves us, changes us, sanctifies us, and refines us. No experience can add to or subtract from the God of the Scriptures.

So whether it is a trip to Australia or to your living room; whether it is 70 hours per week or half an hour a day…the Word of our God on high is what reveals the glory of Jesus Christ, reaches into our muck and mire, removes from us our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh that is sensitive to the Holy Spirit and daily refines us into the image of Christ.

the instagram bible.

I first stumbled across this concept of ‘the Instagram bible’ as I read through some of Jen Wilkin’s writings not too long ago.

In her October 2, 2016 article, Jen Wilkin explains that what is often presented as gospel truth according to Instagram ‘comforts but rarely convicts; emotes but rarely exhorts; warms but rarely warns; promises but rarely prompts; moves but does not mortify; builds self-assurance but balks at self-examination; chooses brevity over breadth, inspiration over intellect, and devotion over doctrine.’

This is dangerous and Jen Wilkin persistently warns us against the pomp of ‘relatability’ and encourages us to be devoted followers of Christ and students of the Bible who daily affirm and submit to the supremacy and entirety of God’s Word, which means even the parts that don’t leave us feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

As he encourages his audience to check out this new Bible study, Windahl excitedly describes his Bible study as being ‘super instagramable, because hello…its 2018 and things need to look good.’

I understand the need to market to one’s audience, but it is concerning that this component of his Bible study is held in higher regard than the actual, life-giving truth of Scripture. While I have not actually utilized this resource on my own, the fact that it’s ‘instagramability’ finds a place in the promotional videos before there’s anything mentioned of God, Jesus Christ, and the true life-changing reality of Christ crucified and raised to life raises several red flags.

Where does our worship and devotion lie?

What do we consider as having upmost importance?

What is it that attracts our attention and devotion?

I fear a resource that is described as being ‘super instagramable’ might fall severely short of helping its readers understand the fullness of God’s Word.

I so often see this in young adult groups, ministries, and Bible studies and have caught myself several times pondering the external factors that are likely to draw an audience rather than the deep, foundational  truths of God’s Word on which we base our relationships, our discipleship, our gatherings, and our worship; the foundational truths that bring about deep change.

There is nothing wrong with posting an encouraging Instagram post with a verse or a passage. There is nothing wrong with double-tapping that image with Jeremiah 29:11 on it.

But, brothers and sisters, let’s not neglect the very breath of God for that which temporarily satisfies our self-bent desires for approval and affirmation. Let’s be men and women who know what we believe, why we believe it, grounded in the very Word of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As followers of Christ and students of Scripture, we must daily return to and submit to the entirety and supremacy of God’s Word.

The Supremacy of God’s Word – Part I

I’ve seen a number of promotions on Facebook lately for a new Bible study by Zach Windahl. This study caught my attention because a) I’m a book hoarder; and b) I love seeing new Bible studies and resources come out that help people deepen their faith and strengthen their pursuit of the Lord.

However, as I considered this new addition to my personal library and watched a couple promo videos for this product, there were a few things that seemed fundamentally out of place.

I have not actually utilized this Bible study yet, therefore my opinion of it is solely based on how it was marketed to it’s audience. However, there were some overarching themes that stood out to me which I’ve noticed more and more frequently, primarily among young adult groups.

presumed authority.

As he describes his new Bible study, Windahl explains that it is “a one-year Bible Study that focuses on how each book relates to your life.”

With a primary focus of revealing how the Bible relates to our lives – 21st century American millennials – I fear this study might fall severely short of the purpose for which the Bible was originally intended, which is to reveal the glory of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and raised to life by the infinite wisdom and loving power of God Almighty.

It is the human nature to be self-consumed and self-aware, even as we read the Bible.  We presume upon an authority that does not belong to us; that is, we believe that we have the right and the ability to alter, change, or redefine something, in this case, the Word of God, to fit our preferences.

If we approach the infallible Word of God in this manner, it is near unavoidable that our self-bent nature will attempt to alter, change, and/or redefine the truths of Scripture to justify our cause rather than convict and to only encourage rather than challenge.

Ben Schapiro discerningly points out during a political debate that “facts are often being trumped by what we wish were facts in order to push certain [political] agendas.” 

Though this point was made to address a political debate, I think it is relatable to all facets of life, including faith and Christianity. We presume upon the Word of God, disregarding truths that make us uncomfortable and believing that in order for the Bible to be considered valid, it must first and foremost relate to us…today…in 21st century America…as if that were its primary objective.

It is important that we approach the Bible in an appropriate manner and handle it responsibly. The Word of God is not something that shifts and changes over time. Rather, it remains timeless; enduring forever despite the ever-changing, ever-elusive nature of society (ref. Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17, NIV).

“The Bible, from beginning to end, is a shameless and glorious declaration of the nature and character of God before it says anything about who we are.”  – Jen Wilkin

I have nothing against resources and supplemental guides that help us study the Bible. While the Bible is first and foremost a book about God, it is also a book that reveals God’s love for us. Therefore it is important to see how such a love relates to and changes us. However, when our desire for personal revelation and ‘relatability’ trumps our desire to know the God of our fathers, we have just identified the Bible as a means to our own self-awareness.

fear of discomfort.

As he continues promoting his new resource, Windahl addresses the issue of how difficult the Bible is to read, especially for younger generations.

“A lot of people struggle reading the Bible,” Windahl says, “because let’s be honest, it can be tough reading such a big book; especially if you don’t know how to make it personal.”

Yes! To be quite honest, I can relate to this and say that I struggle reading the Bible for these exact reasons. It’s tough; it’s a big book; what’s up with Leviticus; and seriously, is KJV even English?

However, it is the struggle that often yields the greatest reward.

Something that I believe this generation has lost is the ability to sit in the struggle; to dwell in the uncertainty; to be at peace in the questioning. Simply put, we hate not knowing.

But it’s the moments of struggle; the seasons of uncertainty; and the times where we seem to have so many questions that ultimately yield the strongest resolve; the deepest trust; and the most profound answers when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ.

And so it should be when reading the Bible.

Yes – you might read through the book of Deuteronomy for the first time and wonder what on earth it has to do with anything, but if we truly believe that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness…’ (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV), then we know that even the laws of Deuteronomy, the genealogies of Leviticus, the judgment of Judges, the beauty of Genesis, and the astounding love of the Gospels all speak to the glory of Jesus Christ and are profitable for our growth, refinement, and sanctification.

Yet, we run from this. We set aside the incredible opportunity to grow from the struggle and discomfort for the immediate yet temporary remedy of quick answers and supplemental materials.

Now please, don’t hear me wrong…Bible studies are not a bad thing. In fact, they are incredibly good and certainly beneficial.

They are not, however, foundational.

We lose a sense of the raw, ‘brick and mortar,’ foundational truths of the Bible when we lather them with topical studies and additional resources before first allowing ourselves to get lost and confused in His Word, which will eventually allow us to experience the grace of revelation by the Holy Spirit as His Word comes to life (ref. Hebrews 4:12; Isaiah 40:8; Psalm 119:130; Proverbs 3:2, NIV).

As followers of Christ and students of Scripture, we must daily return to the Supremacy of God’s Word.

*               *               *

The Supremacy of God’s Word -Part II, Coming Monday, November 12.

In Part II of this two-part series on the Supremacy of God’s Word, I will be addressing the issue of having a mindset of ‘The Bible and…’; a mindset that believes that the Bible can only change your life if it is coupled with other experiences and encounters. Additionally, I’ll be addressing the rising tendency towards The Instagram Bible; believing that the Bible only consists of passages that are ‘instagramable.’

All Things New – Part III

This last weekend I was able to attend the ONE Conference at Cornerstone Berean Church in Ames, Iowa. I hadn’t been to a women’s conference in quite a while, so I was excited for some time to get away, learn, and worship.

Now, after all is said and done, I feel challenged to share with you everything that I took away from this conference. The entirety of this weekend was exceptionally transformational to my walk with God, and I am excited to share that with you.

session three, October 6

James 1:5 says that ‘if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.’

This is an amazing verse, but one that is quite often misinterpreted. We read James 1:5 and convince ourselves that all we must do is ask, and God will deliver. Rarely does it actually happen this way though, and not due to a lack on God’s part, but because we’re asking the wrong question.

As human beings, we are notorious for asking the wrong question. We want to know exactly what to do; how to do it, and when. Because of this, we start to believe that this is how we must discern God’s will for our lives and follow it. However, asking God to tell us what to do, how to do it, and when is not wisdom as James 1:5 describes it.

Wisdom is an internal mechanism to make decisions. Knowledge is just facts.

So often when we kneel to pray and ask God for wisdom about any decision we may be facing, rather than asking for the humble discernment we need to make a wise decision with the information we have, we ask God to tell us what only God knows – facts, details, and outcomes of the future.

With this kind of approach, we mistreat, misuse, and abuse the Word of God by viewing it as more of a ‘how to’ manual for our lives rather than the glorious, shameless, infallible declaration of the glory and majesty of God Almighty. We miss the real purpose and process of sanctification and start believing that the decisions in life – where to live, who to marry, where to work, etc. – are the main focus.

We convince ourselves that ‘if only we could make better decisions, then we’ll be better people’ right?

I’ll admit it, I’ve spent years believing this and striving for this. If I could just train myself to make better decisions, then I would become that gentle and quiet, godly, wise woman described in Proverbs 31.

What does this actually do though? Eventually, with this kind of approach to discovering God’s will, my success, my obedience, my faithfulness, my righteousness, my everything —it is all left up to me. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s good news…at all!

Because failure is in our nature, we become a nervous wreck when trying to discern God’s will because if it is in fact left up to our own decision making whether we stay within God’s will or not, we know that we’ll eventually fall to the wayside.

So rather than asking God and trying to discern what to do, where to go, and when, perhaps there’s a better question that we could be asking.

Rather than inquiring of God to show us what to do, let’s be men and women who daily seek to discover who He wants us to be, because…

God is always more concerned with the decision-maker than He is with the decision itself.   -Jen Wilkin

And when you start asking this question, I promise that you will be pleasantly surprised to find that it is quite clear what the will of God is.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable…for God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).

God’s will for our lives is to be holy, because He is holy’ (Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:1-2, 20:26, 1 Peter 1:15-16).

Haven’t we already been made holy though? Doesn’t it say in Hebrews 10:10 that ‘we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’?

This is true, as we have been given positional holiness in and through Jesus – we have been delivered from the penalty of sin and granted righteousness before God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

However, we are directed to pursue practical holiness in a life of faith, trust, and righteousness before God; working out our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting that it is God who works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:12).

When Jesus instructed us to ‘ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,’ he was not talking about the daily decisions that we face throughout our lifetime.

Rather, God was saying that the answer will be given; the secret will be found; and the door will be opened to the one asking, seeking, and pursuing holiness. What good is the ‘right decision’ if I’m still the ‘wrong person?’

As believers, we have the power to choose rightly; the wisdom to credit God with those right decisions; and wonderful grace for when we get it wrong.

The will of God for our lives is to be holy, because He is holy, and we have been given the power, wisdom, and grace to do just that through Jesus Christ. Through the amazing grace of Jesus Christ, we have been justified through faith and reconciled to God. We have been granted new names and a new purpose for which we are to live. And finally, we have been set on a new path; on the path of God’s will which is to be holy, because He is holy.