I don’t know about you but even though I’ve been a Christian for a long time, I still battle in my mind with different, opposing views of God. Every day is a struggle with belief in some way: a belief in a God who still loves me, a belief in a God who forgives me, a belief in a God whose mercy does not run dry, a belief in a God who is near me not far from me. Perhaps you find yourself asking yourself, Is God going to run out on me like that parent or spouse? Is God not going to forgive me like that friend who refused to forgive? Who is God and what do we believe about him in those darkest moments when we have nothing left to give?Read More
By Osvaldo and Kristen Padilla
It has been the suggestion of a number of Protestant denominations that the matter of LGBTQ can be separated from the basics of the gospel. That is, that one can be affirming of homosexual unions (please note the clarification about this at the bottom) but this need not affect the traditional core of the gospel. Or to put it another way, the receiving into the churches of LGBTQ folk who want to continue in those relationships is something that is not in the same sphere as the core doctrines of the church. The acceptance of LGBTQ folk as stated above has nothing to do with the continual upholding of central belief commitments such as are expressed in the Apostles Creed or Nicaea. The reception of LGBTQ people who want to continue actively in those relationships does not at all affect my evangelical identity, to the extent that that identity is determined by certain core, doctrinal beliefs. So the argument goes. We want to suggest that a recent event involving popular Christian speaker and author Jen Hatmaker and Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of the evangelical flagship popular magazine Christianity Today, proves that such arguments are entirely incorrect.
The recent event is actually a continuation of an event that occurred two years ago. In March 2014, Hatmaker penned a controversial blog post entitled, “World Vision, Gay Marriage, and a Different Way Through,” in which she left room for those who believe same-sex marriage is OK to be within the tent of orthodox Christianity. Or to put it another way, there was no connection between the basic doctrines of Christianity and same-sex marriage.
Last week Hatmaker spoke out again regarding the issue of homosexuality, causing another stir. In an April 23rd post, Hatmaker writes,
One thing I said was that it is high time Christians opened wide their arms, wide their churches, wide their tables, wide their homes to the LGBT community. ... Here are my arms open wide. So wide that every last one of you can jump inside. You are so dear, so beloved, so precious and important. You matter so desperately and your life is worthy and beautiful. There is nothing "wrong with you," or in any case, nothing more right or wrong than any of us, which is to say we are all hopelessly screwed up but Jesus still loves us beyond all reason and lives to make us all new, restored, whole.
Standing by itself, her ambiguous post (just what does it mean to love and to open arms wide?) on love does not say much. In fact at first glance her words should be echoed by all of us who love sacrificially and without exception. But what does it mean to be loved by God? Does being loved by God imply a relationship with God? What does she mean by “there is nothing ‘wrong with you’”? In particular, since Christians through the ages have said that repentance is the gateway to a relationship with God, what is the connection between repentance and the love of God?1
Enter Beaty. She provides a defense of Hatmaker’s statements by concentrating on the love of God. The title of her piece is: “What Jen Hatmaker gets right about Christian love.” Beaty’s conclusion is that the angry response to Hatmaker is indicative of a misunderstanding of God’s love.
But the response from both sides of the spectrum also highlights how confused we Christians are about the nature of love—the love that God has for us, and the love we are to have for those who don’t know him.
Beaty sees as the problem with the opponents of Hatmaker that they put a condition for the acceptance of LGBTQ folks. The condition that Beaty sees is repentance. Consider the following statement:
This radical love of God in Christ is precisely what compels us to love God in return and to repent accordingly—not the other way around. And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.
To bolster her argument, she quotes from Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge. Here is what the latter says about repentance: “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” Yet, “The truth is the other way around. Repentance is something that God works in us as a consequence of his prevenient grace.”
And so we have come full circle to our introduction. In fact, the current debate on same-sex unions depends squarely on our understanding of some of the basic things of the gospel. In this case, repentance.
Now there are some significant problems in Hatmaker/Beaty’s statements about the relationship of God’s love to repentance.
First, Beaty approvingly quotes the view of repentance from Rutledge, “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” The problem with this is that it contradicts the Bible. Consider the following passages:
And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:2-3)And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus (Acts 3:19-20; emphasis added)
So, in fact, without repentance there is no salvation. This leads us to a second point.
Second, the problem with Beaty is that she understands repentance as a human work, as self- amendment. She views it as our contribution to salvation. Consider the following:
And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.
Is this really what repentance is? Repentance is actually a gift of God, as much a gift as faith and justification. Consider the following passages:
The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31; emphasis added)God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness. (Acts 3:26)
This is repentance. It is a gift of God by which he grants us a contrite and broken spirit (Psalm 51), which desperately wants to turn toward a new life. It is not amending our lives; it is a God- given desire to live according to God’s commands. Consider also the following quotation from Beaty:
Prevenient grace is the kind of grace that runs out toward us when we have barely managed to walk down the path toward our father’s house. It’s a kind of grace that wipes off the slop, enables us to stand up straighter...
The Scriptural view is that you couldn’t even walk without God-given repentance, not even barely; you couldn’t even stand up at all (let alone straighter) without repentance. The irony here is that Beaty inadvertently has shown what she believes about grace—that it is a cooperative endeavor in which God meets us “when we have barely managed to walk down the path.” Grace for her is helping us “stand up straighter.” In reality without grace we cannot get off the ground in the first place! But if you understand repentance in the way that she does, of course you are going to make statements like the ones above.
To end where we began: how we view homosexuality—not in the abstract but the very specific issue of same-sex marriage—is not something that can be separated from core doctrines of the Christian faith. It is tied to doctrines such as grace, repentance, and the love of God. If “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and yet you do not understand the love of God, then you don’t know God. And so the relationship of repentance to the love of God goes all the way down to the very being of God. For your view of repentance, consciously or unconsciously, says what you believe about the love of God.
Can you know the love of God in the abstract without knowing God relationally? And can you relationally know God without repentance? If the answer is no to this second question, then you cannot know the love of God (God is love) without repentance.
Let us be clear, we are not suggesting that a person has to repent in order for God to love them. That would be silly. God loves us no matter what our state is. But we are asking how can you enter into a relationship of love with God without repentance. Is that possible?
1 In Romania, for example, evangelicals are called “the repentant ones.” And in Latin America, repentance is used as a shorthand for the whole experience of salvation.
Osvaldo's father lives with us. He is not a Christian. We have literally opened our home, hearts, and arms in love for him. We share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him and tell him ad nauseam about God's love. He also comes to church with us. But he has yet to experience the love of God; he has also yet to repent. If you cannot know God or God's love behind the back of Jesus, and if Jesus' greatest act of love was what he did on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven, he will not know for himself God's love until he turns (repents) and recognizes Jesus as Lord. All rationale and stubbornness has him not repenting; that is why we are always praying that the gift of repentance might be granted to him so that he will experience God's love. His behavior won't change right away, but we know that in Christ the Holy Spirit works to transform us according to his will.
Please note that we are not suggesting that Beaty is in agreement of same-sex unions. For Hatmaker we are not sure where she stands. The problem we have is the way repentance as it relates to the love of God is articulated. Scripture teaches us that we are to always correct and reprove and be corrected and reproved so that another gospel, different than the gospel Paul preached, isn't preached. And in this case we felt strongly that what was being articulated regarding repentance needed to be corrected.
Lastly, this entire post highlights what I (Kristen) have been saying in this blog. Women (and men!) without theological education should be especially careful before making statements about doctrines about which the best Christian thinkers have been reflecting on for centuries. Both Hatmaker and Beaty betray the least amount of acquaintance with robust theological discussion on the nature of repentance and the love of God. Shall we let people who have no formal theological training tell the rest of the church what repentance is and what the love of God is?
Osvaldo Padilla is associate professor of New Testament at Beeson Divinity School, where he teaches Greek and the Gospels and Acts.
"Behold, the dwelling place is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." Revelation 21:3-4
There’s an ancient tombstone in Rome that reads, “Stranger, hang on a minute. Stop here; take a look down to your left. That’s where my bones are buried. I was a good man. I was a kind man, and I was a lover of the poor. Please traveler, I beg you, don’t mess with my tomb. Traveler, on your way now. Goodbye.”
For Gaius Atilius, the end of his story ended with his grave, and for a traveler to mess with his grave would somehow interrupt his eternal rest. But God reveals to us in Revelation that for the one in Jesus Christ the end of our story isn’t the grave but an eternal dwelling place with God. We don’t look to an ending where our bones will lay under piles of dirt; rather, we look forward to the day when we will dwell with God in resurrected bodies with no more tears or pain. As my son Philip says, “There will be no more band-aids in heaven.” And this eternal reality is not dependent upon how good we are. For even Gaius Atilius’ best attempt at goodness still ended with him in the grave. Rather, this eternal reality is given to us because of God’s great love for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. So even in these moments and days of tears, sadness, and pain, remember that it is temporary. Our stories won’t end in the grave because Jesus is not in the grave.
Posted earlier today on Dean Timothy George's blog at beesondivinity.com.
"Life is lived forwards but understood backwards." I believe that my Christian preaching professor was quoting someone else when he spoke these words in class more than eight years ago, but I attribute them to him and have never forgotten them.
Back in perhaps late October or early November (I don't remember now), the women's minister at my church called me. The speaker they had lined up for their Fall Women's Coffee event had cancelled; would I step in. I agreed. With less than a month to prepare I prayed for a text for the coffee event. The Lord kept leading me to Matthew 6:25-34, "Do not be anxious...".
By God's grace, I gave the same talk at two different times on this passage on November 13. I said that the answer to incessant anxiety or worry even when our circumstances are grim is believing and knowing that God is a good father who loves us.
Life was going pretty well, by the way.
Then four days after I gave this talk, I had an unusual thing happen that prompted me to seek a colonoscopy.
The colonoscopy showed I had ulcerative colitis (UC), an auto-immune disease that attacks the colon. Ironically, my husband had suffered from the same disease for the past 12 years and we both had UC in the same spots of our colons!
On the heels of grappling with a new diagnosis, just two weeks after my colonoscopy, our 4 year old son went to the bathroom and also had an unusual thing happen. He was too young to have this disease and it would be too coincidental if he and I would "get" it at the same time!
After a tumultuous two months and some odd weeks of doctor's visits, blood work, stool samples and tears, he finally had a colonoscopy two weeks ago that revealed colitis. Three days after his colonoscopy, he began having abdominal pain. This led to him being hospitalized last week with pancreatitis and learning that his colitis is in fact Crohn's colitis. Two days after being home from the hospital, I fell ill very quickly. I went to the doctor just this Saturday and learned I had bronchitis and what she thought was a virus. She didn't test me for the flu. Sunday I thought I was going to die. Yesterday I tested positive for the flu.
Two Mondays ago, hours before we took Philip to the ER, I listened to the talk I gave that November morning for the first time despite the fact that I hate listening to my voice. I listened to myself, an earlier self without any real problems, talk about trusting in God's goodness and his love for us as our Father. I listened to myself say that when we take our eyes off of our circumstances and place them on the goodness and love of God we find relief from our anxiety and worry.
I believe often times it is the teacher who learns the most when he/she prepares to teaches. I don't know if God gave that message for anyone in those rooms on November 13, but I do know I needed the message. Perhaps I didn't need the message on Nov. 13, but I needed it last week, this week, and even today. I don't think it was a coincidence that the Fall Women's Coffee speaker cancelled or that God put the Matthew 6 text on my heart. He knew that I was about to enter into a time when I would possibly question his goodness and his love for me. He knew that I was about to face a diagnosis of my own and of my beloved son's. He knew that I was about to go through the ringer of physical exhaustion and face situations that would cause great worry.
Perhaps I still don't understand looking backwards why these things have taken place (I don't know if I ever should), but I do understand looking backwards that God was reminding me of his goodness and love (and even had me teach on it!) on the cusp of when I would need reminding of it the most.
I don't know what's going on in your world, but perhaps you, too, need reminding of God's love and goodness. If so, you can listen to the talk I gave here.
"Jesu, the very thought of Thee With sweetness fills my breast: But sweeter far Thy face to see, And in Thy presence rest." St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century
What creates unrest in your life?
Worry? Fear? Relationships? Health? Your children’s extra-curricular activities? Bills? Money? Violence?
We live in a world of unrest – of restlessness.
The search term that brings most people to my blog is restlessness, which leads them to “An Answer To a Restless Spirit,” a post I wrote last year. We are people who struggle with unrest and want to know how to overcome it. As I was thinking about what causes unrest in our lives, I thought of the following.
ISIS creates unrest for people who will not convert. Planned Parenthood creates unrest for babies who were once living restfully in their mothers’ wombs. A white racist created unrest for African-Americans worshipping in a church. Gangs create unrest in neighborhoods. The gossiper creates unrest for the gossiped about one.
Sin creates unrest in all of our lives. There are varying degrees of unrest, but it touches each of us because sin touches each of us.
In the United States, I believe, egocentricism and narcissism eats away at our rest like cancer in its last stage. The more we feed on ourselves the more unhappy and restless we become.
How do we find rest? How can we cultivate rest? Or, how can we overcome unrest?
To answer this question we must begin at the beginning – Genesis 1.
In the beginning God created. The creation account describes God making order out of chaos and thereby creating a good and perfect world (Genesis 1-2). At the end of each day “there was evening and there was morning,” language to communicate the completion of a day. Whether or not this was a 24 hour day or a longer period isn’t important for our discussion. But don’t miss this! Guess what happens on Day 7?
“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”
The seventh day was never meant to end. It is the only day that did not have an evening and morning! The seventh day was not a 24 hour day; it was the reality or the space in time in which God was to live with his people forever.
The seventh day commemorated the fulfillment of his creating acts. His creation and creating was complete, perfect, and good. Each creation day ended with the same refrain, “and behold, it was very good.” When God rested from his work he did so because his work was perfectly finished and completed.
On Day 7 we see God, the Creator, resting in a perfect and unbroken fellowship with his creation, most importantly with the man and woman. Rest is not equal to relaxation. Sometimes I feel worse after waking up from a two-hour nap than I did before the nap! The Hebrew word for rest means "to cease." God rested or ceased from creating work and rested in a good world in which he created. Therefore, biblical rest is the description of the state or reality where sin is not and everything is perfect and completed.
Notice how the work week doesn’t start over for God. Again, it is complete. It is finished. Creation was meant to live in a state of rest with its Creator forever.
In Genesis 2:3 God does something that he does not do for any other day. He sanctifies the day as belonging to him. God sanctifies rest. God doesn’t sanctify his other days of work; rather, he makes holy the reality (the day) in which he and his creation would live. Creation was meant to live in unbroken fellowship with God, and creation (including you and me) was created to take part in Day 7 with him. Rest was God’s idea from the beginning – "divine rest in a perfect creation." (See quote below.) The original couple were invited, created with the intention, to enjoy and participate in that rest with God.
This reality did not mean that the original couple did not work nor did it mean that work was a rest-stealer. Work in a sinless, perfect world was good and not hard (Genesis 2:15).
What disturbs the rest that our Creator was enjoying with his creation in the perpetual seventh day?
Genesis 3 tell us it was sin – disobedience.
Sin disturbs this rest and creates unrest. Or, put another way, sin undoes rest and creation.
The perfect, unbroken fellowship with God is now messed up and broken. Good and restful work now turns into hard work with pain, thorn, and thistles. Adam and Eve are sent out of the place where they once dwelt with God. Their physical reality (moving away from God’s presence) is indicative of their spiritual reality – being separated from God. Creation, which was also once at peace with one another because of it being at peace with God, now turns in on and against itself. The first example we see of this unrest within creation is Cain and Abel. Cain kills his brother because of jealousy. After the Fall, there are continuous patterns of sin taking the people further away from God and from one another into unrest.
We do not hear of the Sabbath after creation until Exodus 31 when Moses is on Mount Sinai.
"But sin ruined that rest in fellowship with the Creator, as well as God's rest in a creation unspoiled by sin." This made it impossible for God to impose the Sabbath on a fallen humankind, because the thing it memorialized -- divine rest in a perfect creation -- had been destroyed. ... The idea of the Sabbath, therefore, disappeared from Scripture until it was reinstitute at Mount Sinai for the people whom God redeemed."
At Mount Sinai, after God has rescued the Hebrew people out of Egypt, God makes a covenant with his redeemed in order to reestablish a new creation. This is known as the Mosaic covenant.
And the Lord said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” (Ex. 31:12-17; See also Lev. 23:3 and Deut. 5:12-15)
Because of what the Sabbath memorialized – peace with God – God does not reestablish the sanctification of the day until he makes a covenant with people whom he had redeemed (pictured perfectly in the Passover as God passed over every household that had blood of a lamb on its doorposts). We cannot enter into God’s rest without first being redeemed. Redemption is necessary to experience rest.
The law of the Sabbath points back to the first Sabbath. In the celebration of the Sabbath the people are sharing in the intended reality of rest with their Creator and now their Redeemer. In God’s redeeming act (as seen in the Passover and release from captivity in Egypt) is the idea of rebirth – God recreating a people for himself. And because God chose to redeem them, he invites them to share with him in his holy day. In return, those who keep the Sabbath will show themselves to be the faithful, true followers of God.
“As the people of God, the Israelites were identified with their Creator and Redeemer by sharing that Sabbath.”
While this day had physical rest implications (garnering strength for a new work week), it was more than that. The day was a day of worship not for personal pursuits. Worship of God ushers us into rest. When we elevate and feast on ourselves, we become more and more restless. When we elevate and feast on God, we find more and more rest. The promise of rest is often given in conjunction with the promise of land. Think of the Israelites as they leave Egypt. God, through Moses, promises both rest and land. The idea of land and rest brings to mind the garden of Eden when the land also saw rest.
The celebration of the Sabbath also points to a future Sabbath – eternal, eschatological rest. Since the time of the Fall, God in salvation history has been working to bring back the seventh day. In Jesus Christ, God has been working to restore and recreate what was lost in the Fall, a time when what once was will be a present reality again.
Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, however, we read that the people of God fail to enter rest and the land because of rebellion and unbelief. The three commandments that the Israelites are most often accused of disobeying are: not worshipping idols, not intermarrying, and not keeping the Sabbath. Unbelief delayed the fulfillment of the promised rest.
As we turn to the New Testament, something changes after the Incarnation. The Sabbath is no longer commanded or imposed. Rather, the Sabbath is descriptive of the reality for those in Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus gives a promise for those who will follow him. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus says he alone holds rest, and therefore he alone is able to gift rest. How is it that Jesus can promise rest, and, therefore, how can we trust that Jesus is able to give it?
First, because he is the lord of the Sabbath. As the incarnate Son of God, through whom the world was made (John 1), Jesus is rightful lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8 and Mark 2:28). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus with the Father and the Spirit created the world. As Creator, Jesus with the Father and Spirit rested and sanctified rest.
Second, because of Jesus’ salvific work on the cross and in the resurrection. God recreates us through Jesus’ death and resurrection by reconciling us to himself. Listen to how Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, 21.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this if from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. … For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus puts us back into right relationship with God our Creator. As a result, when we are in a right relationship with our Creator we experience rest. Our proximity to God determines whether or not we will experience rest.
Our four-year-old son has always had difficulty with sleep. Ever since he moved out of a crib, we have struggled with him getting out of his bed in the night to come to our bed. Whether it is us lying by him in order for him to fall asleep or him climbing between us to fall back to sleep when he's woken up in the night, he can't seem to find rest unless he is as close to us as possible. Our presence brings comfort and rest to him.
The same is true with us and our Creator, our God, our Father. His presence alone brings true and lasting rest for our souls. The further away from him the more restless we are.
Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God also establishes a new covenant. Jesus tells us this when he institutes the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper or communion is the divine interpretation of the cross. We cannot understand the meaning of Jesus’ death without the Lord’s Supper.
At the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus says this is my body given for you and this is my blood poured out for you. Just like we could do absolutely nothing to bring about our own creation, we, too, can do nothing to bring about our redemption. Just like we were completely dependant upon God for our physical birth, we, too, are completely dependant upon God for our rebirth. Rest, therefore, cannot be earned, bought, or worked for. It is a gift of God that we receive through Jesus Christ, the lord of Sabbath.
What kind of rest does Jesus give us?
First, as just discussed, we rest from works of salvation, from any and all attempts to get to God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). For those who come from other religions or perhaps from a misconstrued type of Christianity, this type of work is very wearisome and burdensome (just like it was for those trying to keep the Sabbath). Taking Jesus’ yoke is to accept the work of salvation he has done on our behalf, and as a result find rest from works of salvation. Works attempted on our own are hard, but works that are a result of the Spirit of God are light and easy.
Second, we rest from sin and the guilt of sin. “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Rev. 1:5b). "For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt. 26:28). "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:46-47)."To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts. 10:43).
Third, the rest we have is peace with God. We are at peace with God because we have been reconciled to God. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27). "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).
So what do we do with the Sabbath commandment as Christians?
Since the Sabbath is no longer commanded or imposed, we must not confuse what we do on Sunday as the Sabbath. We come together on Sundays to worship Christ and to celebrate what he has done for us in ushering us into this eschatological rest, but we are no longer under the law of the Sabbath. Instead, in Christ every day is a Sabbath because we are reconciled to God. We are reminded of this reality through worship. And it’s not only spiritual rest, but we also are given physical rest in worship because of who we are worshipping. Therefore, we are able to enter into God’s rest even while still living in a world and a land of unrest that is still waiting for its final redemption because we are at peace with God. This is counterintuitive to what the world offers. The world says to exalt yourself and trust in yourself to find “your best life now.” God says, Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, those of you who are tired of running away, turning inward, rebelling, and I alone will give you rest.
It doesn't matter how much we declutter our lives and our homes, how many times we say "no" to good things, how organized we are, how many naps we take, or how many hours we sleep at night. These are good things to give our bodies rest. But we cannot create rest for ourselves. We might look restful or happy on the outside, but without Jesus, without a relationship with God through Jesus that is spent feasting on his Word and in prayer, any rest we have is only a mirage. It is a fake and so thin that the slightest thing will break it, undo it.
But in Christ, we have a foretaste of the seventh day. The not yet will one day be. There will be no more unrest or restlessness when the kingdom of God comes.
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'"
No matter what is causing you unrest or restlessness in the present, daily troubles of this life, rest in Christ. Rest in his salvation. Find rest in your Creator and Redeemer. And rest in his promise that he will one day bring you into his eternal rest where we will once again dwell in that “seventh day.”
This post was a session I taught at a woman's retreat last Spring (2015). These reflections came from my own study of Scripture, but as I later read Ross's book (see below) and other commentaries, they confirmed what I said in this post. For further reading, read Ross; J.A. Thompson, Deuteronomy (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries); Gordon J. Denham, Genesis 1-15 (World Biblical Commentary); and Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17 (The New International Commentary of the Old Testament).
 Allen Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), p. 397-8.
 Ross, p. 399.
When we moved into our rental property this summer in Cambridge, England, our landlord left only a few instructions for us. One of those instructions was how to descale our appliances and how often we should do it.
Descaling appliances? I had no idea what she meant.
It didn’t take long, however, to learn. You see, we have very hard water in Cambridge. So what follows is a simple cause and effect equation. The continuous use of hard water builds up limescale on your appliances.
By the way, I hate hard water. (Just see a picture of our shower head below.)
Not only does it make the appliances all yucky and green, but also it makes your skin dry, your hair like sandpaper, your clothes rough and your showers difficult to clean.
Another cause and effect at work
Growing up listening to a preacher who preached Christ-centered sermons kept me shielded from what I have since come to experience many times, and that is human-centered preaching. While my dad is not a perfect preacher (who is?), he faithfully preaches Christ week in and week out.
For a long time after I left home and went to college I heard sermons that – from what I know now – were human-centered. It wasn’t until I sat under Dr. Robert Smith Jr. in his preaching class at Beeson Divinity School and read one his required textbooks, Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell, that I could put a name to these types of sermons.
Since then I have purposely kept my ears and eyes open to how these types of sermons were affecting its hearers. When you continuously wash with hard water, you will have limescale buildup. What do you get, then, when a preacher continually preaches human-centered sermons? What effects do these sermons have on people?
What is human-centered preaching?
(Disclaimer: We do not listen to sermons in order to find faults; at the same time we are to listen with discernment.)
Before we go any further we need to know what I mean by human-centered preaching.
First, I believe it refers to a certain kind of hermeneutic used of a biblical text. “Hermeneutic” is a big word, and what I mean by it is how one interprets a biblical text. A human-centered sermon will use the following hermeneutic: “What is in it for me?” This question is the grid through which interpretation and application always flow. And in this way, you and me, are the centerpiece of the sermon; it revolves around us.
Second, human-centered preaching will be heavily weighted with application. If the question, “What is in it for me?” is driving the sermon, then little time will be spent on expositing the text (its context, background information, meaning of words/phrases, genre, etc.) and the majority of the sermon will be application based ("here’s how you should respond"). Also, within human-centered application the responsibility will lie with the person and what he or she should do. It will be heavily works-based. God is not an active participant in the application, and taken in isolation it can be moralistic and secular at worse. Application alone is not bad and sometimes a certain text will be jammed pack with ways we are to respond or things we are to do or not do (just look at the Epistles!). But it is one thing to give application when the text demands it as a response to what Christ has done for us and out of worship of Him. It is another thing to force application void of the gospel and with the intended goal of feeling better about myself or doing it for myself. (As an aside: I wonder if some preachers often feel pressured to jump over the details and the theology of the text because there's an expectation that people would stop listening if the sermon is not mostly about "self-help" techniques.)
Third, connected to the second point, human-centered preaching will have a tendency to use a lot of stories, illustrations and jokes to fill-in space and time. Often, if the time in giving illustrations is longer than the time spent on the biblical text itself, then it is probably a human-centered sermon. I remember very distinctly Dr. Smith talking about the use of illustrations in sermons in our preaching class. Illustrations are to be used rarely and when used they are to be short and to the point. Their purpose is not to be the content of the sermon but rather to reinforce a biblical truth. Often time, however, illustrations can be too much about the preacher. Also, overuse of an illustration is often used to mask a lack of grappling with the biblical text.
Here are some other indicators or tests:
- Are God and Christ rarely mentioned whereas “I, you and me” are mentioned ad nauseam?
- Who is the subject of the sermon? Does God take center stage? Is He the object of our worship? Is He the reason we respond in a certain way? Or, is God mentioned as a supporting actor? Is God the means or agent through which we get what we want or become a better person?
- Is the sermon built around a text from which everything else flows or are biblical texts only used or mentioned to support a point in the sermon?
- What is the end goal of the sermon? What does the preacher want you to walk away with? If God, the gospel, or Jesus Christ are not a significant part of the goal, application or response then it probably is a human-centered sermon.
What are the effects of human-centered preaching?
First, human-centered preaching feeds into and reinforces a narcissistic, me-centered culture. The gospel cannot co-exist in this kind of culture for it is antithetical to everything that makes the gospel what it is. Denying self is on the complete opposite scale of elevating self, and unless one denies self and acknowledges the sin in our lives then the gospel is rendered insignificant. Preachers, what kind of culture are you creating in your sermons? The effect of human-centered preaching is a culture that is unreceptive to the gospel, and once a church gives into this kind of thinking and living it is no longer particularly Christian. I cannot tell you how many times I have listened to a sermon and thought, perhaps without a few mentions to God and the Bible, this sermon could have been given in any secular context and welcomed.
Second, human-centered preaching results in depressed people. People were not created to turn inward in order to find hope, redemption or healing by looking at self. Rather, just like any other idol, turning inward is destructive. We were made and designed in God’s image to worship God. Preacher, if you believe that salvation comes only from God and by being in relationship with God, then resist the temptation to preach anything else. Unfortunately when people are fed on a diet of human-centered preaching it is like a poison to them and can result in depressed, messed up people.
Third, human-centered preaching gives way to theologically and biblically illiterate people. Pupils of human-centered theology and teaching do not know how to read the Bible any other way. In fact, I have witnessed people under human-centered preaching stop reading their Bibles all together. As a result, they do not know how to think or talk about God anymore, and because of this they are more prone to believing in and spreading false teaching.
Preaching every week is a huge responsibility. It can be extremely difficult to prepare a sermon week in and week out in the midst of very busy schedules and needy parishioners, not to mention what’s going on in your personal life. My heart goes out to you, and I pray for you.
Yet, I want to caution you, as a sister who loves the Church and its ministers, to be aware and wary of human-centered preaching. It creeps up so easily because it is in our nature to focus on self.
James writes, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Probably most of us take this warning seriously; perhaps some of us need reminding of it. The effects human-centered preaching have on people is serious, dangerous, and hurtful. To be even more direct with you, I believe human-centered preaching is sinful.
One way to keep us from preaching human-centered sermons is just by being aware of it. Here are some further suggestions I hope will help you to preach Christ, and only Him, instead of a what’s-in-it-for-me sermon.
First, after writing your sermon, review it with the these questions in mind. Circle all the “I, me and you” pronouns and compare their use to the mentions of God in your sermon. Time how long you are spending expositing the text versus giving practical application and illustrations. Is God the subject and object of your sermon or is He just a supporting actor? Is the biblical text so important that you want to spend most of your time there in it or are you trying to move as quickly through the text as possible to get to the application?
If we are honest with ourselves, perhaps part of the problem is that we are not spending time in preparation like we were taught in seminary. Spend time diagramming the sermon in the original language. Read up on different genres. Read reputable (and updated!) commentaries on a particular passage. Read some new biblical theology books that show the continuation of certain themes in Scripture. Spend more time with the text in your preparation than with prepping illustrations and application and it will show in your sermon. What happens in your sermon is a result of the kind of preparation you put into it (another lesson Dr. Smith taught his students).
Second, request feedback. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., meets weekly with a leadership team in which he invites and receives feedback on the service and his sermons. Here’s what was written about Dever’s leadership style in The Gospel Coalition:
“Structuring a time into a church leadership's weekly schedule for giving and receiving feedback over Sunday's services teaches men to evaluate, to think, and to love the congregation better. It grows them as leaders. Plus . . .
Be willing to receive criticism. Mark sets the example by inviting criticism. This gives other would-be leaders room to spread their wings. If you never invite criticism, you're teaching everyone around you that they must conform to your preferences or be punished. Leaders don't grow in this kind of environment. They whither or leave.”
Feedback and criticism help keep our sermons and us in check. It is called being held accountable. Listen to your sermon on the following Monday or Tuesday with one or two others and make some notes, just like you would in a preaching class, so that you can be exposed to blind spots where human-centered preaching might exist. Don't be resistant to godly counsel.
Third, Read Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching.
Fourth, instead of asking, “What is in it for me?” ask, “What does the text have to say about God and how does it fit into the story of redemption?” Or, “What can we learn about God and His story of redemption?” Let that question drive your sermons. Don’t approach Scripture with a preconceived idea that you want to impose on it. Rather, in a spirit of humility, submit to Scripture and ask God to show you through His Word what you should say. Then, application should flow naturally out of this.
Lastly, my brother-in-law Alex suggests this question when thinking about application: How is Jesus the solution to the application? He says, "Sometimes I think we can do a great job of exposition and then when we get to the application we revert back to (human) works, which could be just as a travesty as missing the exposition. Our whole sermon should be Christ-centered, not just the exposition."
More of Him, less of us
Parishioners, remember to pray, pray, pray for preachers who communicate God's Word on a weekly basis. Be gracious to them knowing that they are humans like you and will make mistakes. At the same time listen with discernment. From my experience, most preachers preach Christ-centered sermons and are doing a great job of being faithful to the text. However, if you see a pattern of human-centered preaching, then approach the preacher (after lots of prayer!) about this concern, or in some situations, reconsider if you are at the best church. If a pastor preaches regularly human-centered sermons then it is very likely that the church is not being shepherd as a Christ-centered church. In these cases, pray for and seek wisdom and discernment.
Let everything we do, say and preach exhibit the spirit and example of John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Jn. 3:30)
(For the Introduction, read it here.)
Does what you say matter? Are your words of value or importance?
I'd like you to think about this. Can we ascribe any weight to words or the people behind the words?
I would like to think so! Otherwise I have no reason to talk or to expect anyone to listen to me. When I look at history, I find that this is most certainly the case that words do matter. When we elect a president of the United States, we do so mostly based on words (promises) spoken. We follow authors, speakers and preachers because we like what they say or how they say it (style). Whether for good or evil, nations and thousands of people are led one way or another by words, just look at Hitler for example. And it is their words that tell us something about who they are. Words, among other things, are someone's ideas verbalized; the origin of words spoken is with the person who speaks them. What someone says is a window into his or her beliefs, heart and personality. Agree?
So why is this important? And, how is this relevant to me (our favorite post-modern question!)?
A few weeks ago a young evangelical tweeted, "Rarely critique people, even if you think their ideas are heretical. People are eternally more valuable & treasured by God than their ideas."
This tweet is not just a random, thoughtless belief. Rather, I have been reading this kind of rhetoric and sensing this attitude for quite sometime among many in the young so-called evangelical camp. This tweet is a great, concise example of the idea looming that there is a dichotomy between people and their words. I remember reading a blog once where the author wrote a response to all the criticism she had been receiving about something she said. She was complaining that in their critiques people were missing that she was a good person. She was in fact a different person than what her ideas portrayed her as. What she said was thus different from the person she was.
This is an Enlightenment idea, and it is a dangerous idea to hold as it relates to truth.
Let's look at this tweet closer, not to pick on the person who tweeted it, but because, again, it serves as a great and concise example of what is being said and taught by many others. So here it is again:
"Rarely critique people, even if you think their ideas are heretical. People are eternally more valuable & treasured by God than their ideas."
1. Are our personhood/identity and our words/ideas two complete and different entities? According to her, they are. She makes a dichotomy between someone's ideas and his or her personhood. It does not matter what someone says, even if it is heresy, because of their value to God. What someone says and thinks can stand apart and alone from who the person is, and who we are trumps what we say and think. How can she make this case?
First we must ask, What is heresy? Heresy, in church history, was a word used to describe those who subscribed to beliefs contrary to orthodox Christian beliefs. I mentioned two examples in a previous post, but will mention them again. There was Arius, who argued that Jesus was not fully God or divine, and then there was Marcion who argued that the God of the Old Testament was not the same God of the New Testament. Marcion wanted to cut out half of the New Testament. These men were called heretics. Modern examples of heretical beliefs are those held by Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, which would include beliefs that contradict the deity and humanity of Jesus and the gospel of salvation that says salvation alone is in Jesus Christ and in his death and resurrection. Heresy thus speaks to ideas that debunk the identity and personhood and work of God as found in Scripture. Heresy is anti-triune God beliefs.
Second, What does it mean to be "eternally valued and treasured by God"? Since this language isn't used in Scripture, I am unsure as to what she means by this phrase. But if I were to take a guess, it would speak of someone who is a child of God through faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ. The word eternal means forever, so if God holds someone as his eternal treasure then this is someone who will spend eternity with Him. So how can someone who speaks and holds to ideas that are heretical be someone that God eternally treasures? Wouldn't this mean then that God is comprising or contradicting Himself?
One way this is possible is by believing that what you say and think stands apart from what you believe or who you are in God. Thus your words and ideas do not change the relationship you have with God through Jesus because your words and ideas take a life of their own. The other way this would be possible is if you accept a universal doctrine that says everyone, no matter what they say, believe or do on this earth, will ultimately be restored to God, i.e. obtain salvation. Therefore it doesn't matter if someone speaks heresy or if someone preaches a different gospel; what matters most to God is that these are people "eternally valued and treasured" by Him.
The problem with this view is that this is not the view of the Bible (not to mention it is self-contradicting). The Bible describes people as complete beings whose words are a mirror of what is in the heart and therefore what one believes. And what one believes affects the way one lives, and the way one lives gives proof whether he or she is a child of God. In Psalms and Proverbs the one who speaks lies and deceit is a fool. The Bible doesn't say that the person is "eternally valued and treasured by God" even though what they say is destructive to truth. Rather, what they say is an indictment on who they are -- fools!
"The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near." Prov. 10:14 "The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool." Prov. 10:18 "The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense." Prov. 10:21 "The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse." Prov. 10:32 "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight." Prov. 12:22 "A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly." Prov. 12:23 "A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke." Prov. 13:1 "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer." Psalm 19:14 "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good." Psalm 14:1 and 53:1
Clearly words matter in the Scriptural witness. Does calling someone who speaks lies, deceit, and slander a fool, fit within this belief that we shouldn't critique someone because they are valued by God? Does calling someone who is wicked and a scoffer fit within this belief? No! I bet if we called someone today a fool or a scoffer because of what they were saying, we would receive public shaming. Scripture's directness does not fit well in our "politcally-correct" world.
The view of Scripture is that we are complete human beings, whose words reflect what is in the heart and what kind of relationship we have to God. If we speak lies and deceit, if we do not listen to rebuke, if we preach something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are fools and fools do not know God (Ps. 14:1, 53:1).
2. Should Christians critique each other's words and ideas? According to this tweeter, the answer is no. She commands to "rarely critique" because by doing so we are hurting or contradicting the value and relationship he or she has with God. (Actually by tweeting what she did makes it difficult for anyone to critique her or what she said because then we would be opposing God who values and treasures her above what she says or tweets. And I wonder what situation would allow for a critique since she doesn't say never but "rarely"?) But what does Scripture say?
Scripture makes clear that it does matter what you say, that it is not OK to speak heresy and that we are to constantly rebuke, critique and reprimand in love when what someone is teaching is not in line with the truth and is leading others astray. Let's look at a few examples.
- Matthew 16:21-23. After Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed but on the third day raised, Peter rebuked Jesus. But Jesus turned the rebuke around to Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."
- Acts 13:4-12. While Barnabas and Saul were out preaching the gospel they encountered a false prophet, Bar-Jesus, who "opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith." But Saul "filled with the Holy Spirit" rebuked him and said, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?"
- In 2 Timothy Paul mentions two men by name and references others who are preaching different gospels and trying to deceive others. "Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some" (2:17-18). And later in 3:8, "Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith." In the middle of these two references, Paul tells Timothy, "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will" (2:24-26). Although Timothy is to correct in love and kindness, he is still to correct. And these men who are leading others astray, preaching something contrary to the gospel, are captured and enslaved by the devil, doing his will. Just like the two above examples, anytime someone is opposing the work or Word of God by what they say that person is associated with Satan and his work.
There are many other examples in Scripture of correcting, rebuking and "criticizing" the ideas, words and teachings of others that are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ (see the book of Jude and 2 Peter). What this young tweeter says is actually contrary to the teaching of Scripture. So either you can rarely criticize because you believe that everyone no matter what they say is "eternally valued and treasured by God," or you can offer critiques when necessary because you know that those who claim there is no God (i.e., Jesus isn't fully God, there is salvation outside of Jesus) are fools and need to be rebuked.
2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." And, "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths" (2 Tim. 4:2-4).
3. Does it matter if someone teaches or speaks something contrary to the Word of God, especially when he or she claims to speak as a Christian with biblical authority?
As you read about how Christianity spread after the resurrection of Christ in the New Testament, you will soon notice that it spread as the Word of God went out. Prayers were not necessarily being offered for people to come to know Christ. Rather the prayers in the New Testament centered around the Word of God, that the Word of God might find open doors and go forth (e.g., Col. 4:3-4, 2 Thes. 3:1). For the early church understood that as the Word, which is "the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18) and "breathed out by God" (2 Tim. 3:16), went forth people would be saved.
So to teach something other than this Word or to contradict His Word is to oppose the One who breathed out the Word and who is the Word.
(For other references about the Word of God going forth or the warnings against false teaching, see Acts 4:3, 29, 31; 6:2, 4; 8:4; 12:24; 13:44, 48-49; Col. 2:8; 1 Thes. 1:5-6, 8; 2:2, 8-9, 13; 2 Thes. 1:7-9; 2:1ff; 1 Tim. 1:3-7, 10-11, 18-20; 6:3-5. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a sampling.)
Near the beginning of this post I said that the ideas in this tweet are dangerous to hold as it relates to truth. I hope you see now that this tweet, the ideas implied in it and what it represents is a post-modern belief of relative truth. Truth is relative; in fact it is so relative we shouldn't critique what anyone says or thinks. Truth is not what matters most to God; we matter most to God. There is no place for judgment, exclusion or harshness in God's love for us.
This definition of love, although not new, is spreading like gangrene among many younger so-called evangelicals. I've seen it heavily in Rachel Held Evans, for example. (By the way, my husband comments to me that the sermon preached at that liberal church that I mentioned in the Intro., sounded an awful lot like Rachel Evans. She acts as if her ideas are something new, but they are just really old liberalism.) This definition assumes we are lovable and deserved to be loved and nothing can change our standing with God. It is pleasing to the ears and fits well in our post-modern understanding of truth, but it is not the truth. I don't know if the person behind our tweet knew what she was saying or if she holds to relativism or universalism. But when we accept pithy sayings without thinking through them carefully or when we put together pithy sayings without thinking through them carefully, we can put forth ideas that are contrary to Scripture and that are life-endangering. Relativism and universalism are gospel killers, and we must expose and oppose them when we see them creeping into our churches and greater Christian community.
As Christians, we need the greater Christian community to challenge, correct, critique and sometimes rebuke us in order to keep us -- all of us (our ideas, words, beliefs, and actions) -- in the center of truth. We need to be sharpened, iron to iron, so that the Word of God might go forth unhindered to those in desperate need of the gospel of grace. We need to be wise sons and daughters who submit to correction and rebuke. Let's not be fools who refuse to listen or to be reprimanded.
We also need to resist the urge to say whatever it is we want to say through social media without carefully thinking through it and examining it according to Scripture. We must be aware that social media is a breeding ground for thoughtless, off-the-cuff soundbites that can spread to thousands within seconds with Retweets (RTs) and Modified Tweets (MTs) here and there. Last time I checked, this tweet had many RTs within minutes by people who, without thinking, thought it sounded good.
If what we say matters and if we truly believe that our words carry importance, then we must submit to correction when what we say is not founded in truth. We must resist this desire to be able to say whatever we want to say without ramifications or consequences.
Rather, critiques, if given and received well, have the potential to protect us from spreading false teaching, from becoming puffed up or conceited, and from error. Positively speaking, critiques help sharpen us, make us better communicators, and protect us from leading others astray.
For in the end, y'all, it's not about us. It. Is. Not. About. Us! It is about Him and His gospel of forgiveness of sins, and if we are misrepresenting either of these two then let's stand corrected. Instead of worrying about being valued and treasured, let's be called the fools we are when we say foolish things so that we might become wise sons and daughters.