Bloggers love to make lists and blog-readers love to read them. It would be easy (and probably helpful) to create a list of the biggest battles Christians face in being the Christians they want to be. Battles with pride, lust, materialism. etc. but there is something that such an approach would actually mask and it’s this; there is only one problem Christians face and that is the struggle to believe the gospel. At the heart of all issues of sanctification is the battle to believe.
Tim Keller highlights what Martin Luther describes below when Keller says the problem with Christians is that we believe and yet don’t believe the gospel at the same time. The goal of Christian thinking and living is to work out the gospel in all of its dimensions. That is Paul’s message in Romans 12v1-2. Here is Luther from his Preface to Galatians commentary;
There is a righteousness that Paul calls “the righteousness of faith”. God imputes it to us apart from our works–in other words, it is passive righteousness…So then, have we nothing to do to obtain this righteousness? No, nothing at all! For this righteousness comes by doing nothing, hearing nothing, knowing nothing, but rather in knowing and believing this only–that Christ has gone to the right hand of the Father, not to become our judge, but to become for us our wisdom, our righteousness, our holiness, our salvation! Now God sees no sin in us, for in this heavenly righteousness sin has no place. So now we may certainly think, “Although I still sin, I don’t despair, because Christ lives, who is both my righteousness and my eternal life.” In that righteousness I have no sin, no fear, no guilty conscience, no fear of death. I am indeed a sinner in this life of mine and in my own righteousness, but I have another life, another righteousness above this life, which is in Christ, the Son of God.
Christians never completely understand [this] themselves, and thus do not take advantage of it when they are troubled and tempted. So we have to constantly teach it, repeat it, and work it out in practice. Anyone who does not understand this righteousness or cherish it in the heart and conscience will continually be buffeted by fears and depression. Nothing gives peace like this passive righteousness. The troubled conscience has no cure for its desperation and feeling of unworthiness unless it takes hold of the forgiveness of sins by grace, offered free of charge in Jesus Christ, which is this passive or Christian righteousness….Once you are in Christ, the Law is the greatest guide for your life, but until you have Christian righteousness, all the law can do is to show you how sinful and condemned you are. But if we first receive Christian righteousness, then we can use the law, not for our salvation, but for his honor and glory, and to lovingly show our gratitude.
Tim Keller has written
There are only two kinds of churches;
One kind says to its community: ‘You can come to us, learn our language, learn our interests, become like us and meet our needs.
The other kind says to its community: ‘We will come to you, learn your language, learn your interests, join in your life and try to meet your needs.’
It is pretty obvious which approach will do most to gain the gospel a hearing as we take Christ to the world.
Josh Reeves is planting a church in Round Rock, Texas. There’s nothing like planting a church to stretch your thinking as to how you and the church family can make the most of opportunities to develop community relationships.
Recently I made a list of 100 ways to engage your neighborhood. I have found that it is often helpful to have practical ideas to start engaging the people around me in order to be a better neighbor. Most of the things on this list are normal, everyday things that many people are already doing. The hope is that we would do these things with Gospel intentionality. This means we do them:
- In the normal rhythms of life pursuing to meet and engage new people
- Prayerfully watching and listening to the Holy Spirit to discern where God is working.
- Looking to boldly, humbly, and contextually proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed.
For a look at Josh’s top 100 ideas visit here
The danger of attending conferences (I’ve just come back from the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London) is that you return home in awe of certain leaders. You wish you had the ability, the insight, the godliness and the gifting of those who were invited to speak and the conclusion you are tempted to reach is that there really are a very few people capable of achieving great things for God.
Thom Rainer studied the growth of nearly 300 churches and set out his conclusions in High Expectations: The remarkable secret for keeping people in your church. His conclusions challenge the assumption that only exceptionally gifted leaders grow exceptional churches.
Rainer argues that it is true that we should recognise that there really are some exception leaders out there. But we also need to celebrate the fact that God grows his church through the faithful leadership of ordinary pastors willing to persevere in their situations and grow their churches one small step at a time.
Here is the big take home for me:
Most successful leaders have learned to eat elephants.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You are willing to make incremental gains which result in long-term blessings.
From the inside the growth and progress can look painfully slow. But for ministers who are faithful and are willing to persevere their ministries can be very fruitful.
The secret then is not to try and be something you’re not or to spend your time wishing you were other than the leader God has gifted you to be but to be faithful and persevere because it is God who gives the growth!
In the study of growing churches Rainer comments of their leaders;
They had a long-term perspective of their ministries where they presently served. Though they were always open to the will of God, they did not try to leave every time a problem developed. They did not suffer from the “greener-grass syndrome.”
These leaders were persistent. They did not give up easily. They were willing to take two steps backward to go three steps forward.
We may not be able to expound the Scriptures like Vaughan Roberts or have the insights of Tim Keller but as the apostle Paul writes
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential.
Why so? Because that is the way God delights to work, therefore;
“Let him who boasts boast in the Lord”
Generous Justice by Tim Keller is subtitled ‘How God’s Grace makes us just’ and the subtitle is itself very telling because the book is not just a biblical defence of the idea that Christians should be concerned to uphold justice in our communities by sharing God’s concern for the needy or vulnerable. The book is also written to measure our grasp of the gospel and our desire to live in obedience to it.
The main argument of the book can be summarised in the following statement;
A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.
For Keller the gospel both shows that Christians have unique motivations for social justice and also that Christians alone have unique power to demonstrate this justice in a radical way that is made possible by the gospel. Keller comments;
The Bible gives us not just a naked call to care about justice, but gives us everything we need – motivation, guidance, inner joy and power – to live a just life.
Elsewhere he comments
We can see what an important and powerful resource the Bible gives us when it provides not merely the bare ethical obligation for doing justice, but a revolutionary new inner power and dynamism to do so. The Bible gives believers two basic motivations – joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.
If Keller is right it seems inevitable that the Christian ought to be more engaged in Generous Justice than his non-Christian neighbour because he has both unique motives and a unique power.
My goal in this post is not to rehearse all of Keller’s arguments. But I would like to highlight a few examples of what it looks like when the gospel is applied to our attitudes to the poor and to matters of justice.
Keller says that Micah 6:8 as ‘a summary of how God wants us to live’. The Chrsitian is ‘to do justice (mishpat) and love mercy (chesedh).’
Justice is at it’s most basic meaning ‘to treat people equitably’. And God is concerned to defend those for whom justice is hard to come by. So
‘if believers in God don’t honor the cries and claims of the poor, we don’t honor him, whatever we profess, because we hide his beauty from the eyes of the world.’
But justice also calls for radical generosity.
Keller cites Matthew 6 and Jesus description of giving alms as ‘acts of righteousness’.
‘Not giving generously, then, is not stinginess, but unrighteousness, a violation of God’s law.’
How does the gospel dynamic work to renew our minds and transform our lives so that the gospel leads to generous justice. I want us to briefly look at five examples from the book.
1. The gospel empowers us to be radical neighbours.
If we are to be committed to our communities we need our care and concern to be motivated not by pity for the poor or guilt because we’re more affluent but we need our compassion to be motivated by the conviction that we ourselves have received from Jesus the love that we are seeking to share. As Tim Keller writes reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan
‘According to the Bible, we are all like that man, dying in the road. Spiritually, we are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:5). But when Jesus came into our dangerous world, he came down our road. And thought we had been his enemies, he was moved with compassion by our plight (Romans 5:10). He came to us and saved us, not merely at the risk of his life, as in the case of the Samaritan, but at the cost of his life. On the cross he paid a debt we could never pay ourselves. Jesus is the Great Samaritan to whom the Good Samaritan points.
Before you can give this neighbour-love, you need to receive it. Once we receive this ultimate, radical neighbour-love through Jesus, we can start to be the neighbours that the Bible calls us to be.’
2. The gospel changes the identity of the well-off so they have a new respect and love for the poor.
Again a powerful motivator for compassion and respect is that the gospel teaches us to identify ourselves with the poor as Jesus did. We share not just a common humanity but we share even the status ‘the undeserving’ poor.
My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor.
And what this means is
To the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.
When we see that we too have bankrupted ourselves spiritually if not financially and we recognise that it was our own fault and that we too are in need of great mercy it will lead to Generous Justice.
3. The gospel declares that God identifies with the poor.
Where would we be if God had not identified himself with the poor? Physically he choose to become poor and marginalized in that he came as a working-class Palestinian Jew not a King or a Lord. He chose not to own a home or to seek the comforts of life.
He stood in the place of us all when he recognised our own spiritual poverty and bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3) and paid our debt.
4. The gospel enables the Christian to sacrifice, take risks and even disadvantage themselves to the advantage of others.
Keller reminds us that the real love that we have received in Christ entailed risk and sacrifice. For the Christian it is a Christ-like love that we offer in return.
The Christian is ready to give not out of his riches but even out of his poverty. He quotes a section from a sermon by the great Jonathan Edwards to demonstrate;
We in many cases may, by the rule of the gospel, be obliged to give to others when we can’t without suffering ourselves…If our neighbour’s difficulties and necessities are much greater than ours and we see that they are not like to be relieved, we should be willing to suffer with them and to take part of their burden upon ourselves.
5. The gospel enables us to overcome racial bias.
The Bible provides deep resources for racial rapprochement. Its depiction of creation cuts the nerve of racism at its source.
And the gospel of grace also serves to kill off any racist instinct.
Racial prejudice is wrong because it is a denial of the very principle that all human beings are equally sinful and saved by only the grace of God. A deep grasp of the gospel of grace, Paul says, should erode our racial biases.
What is at stake?
1. The glory of the gospel in transformed lives
What should we conclude when Christians fails to engage in acts of social justice? Keller would argue we should conclude that Christians have failed to grasp the gospel in all its dimensions and that we need to relearn and reapply the gospel in our attitude to the poor.
I would like to believe that a heart for the poor ‘sleeps’ down in a Christian’s soul until it is awakened.
2. Our witness to the world
Surely the gospel would have a much greater impact if the world saw the power of the gospel at work in the lives of Christians who are motivated to do justice? An awakened heart is a powerful witness.
Deeds of justice give credibility for the preaching of the gospel. When our deeds contradict our words, our words have no power.
The book Generous Justice is a great example of what happens when we allow the gospel free reign to do its work into all of our lives and every aspect of our thinking.
A true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates a man or woman to seek justice in the world.
Imagine you switched on the TV to find your pastor being interviewed by a member of the congregation on prime-time TV and that the interview lasted over 5 minutes and focused on the claims of Christ from the gospel of Mark! Only in America?
Tim Keller’s new book is called King’s Cross and subtitled ‘the story of the world in the life of Jesus’. The book is based on a sermon series given at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Having listened to quite a few of the sermons from the series I’m looking forward to reading the book. What’s more it would make a perfect Easter present for any willing to take a closer look at the person of Jesus.
- Church Planting
- Global Church
- Jesus Christ
- Medical ethics
- Social media
- Suffering Church
- The Christian Life
- Transforming Society
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010