From Ray Ortlund's talk at the 2011 Gospel Coalition Conference (which is well worth reading in its entireity):
The Galatian churches were unstable to begin with, because the reassuring finality of “It is finished” had been eroded away by the acids of self-justification. Insecurity, anxiety, fear and anger had entered in. How could it be otherwise? Self-justification cannot create anything but an unsatisfiable demandingness, for Christ is not its satisfying provision. No matter how well a person has been raised to be courteous, self-justification must generate finger- pointing and accusing and slandering and dividing. Whatever the outcome, no one wins.
When in any church savagery erupts, the problem is not personal, a lack of niceness. The problem is theological, a lack of gospel. But where Jesus reigns by his gospel, love reigns as “a mutual protection and kindness” (Calvin). Paul was a man of courage, forthrightness and apolitical independence. He was also a man of love, humility and warmth: “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13-14). Strong principles and humane relationships, together simultaneously, mark a church as faithful to the gospel.
The following is a guest post from Brian Croft. Brian serves as the senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to contributing to the 9Marks blog, Brian writes regularly on his own blog called Practical Shepherding. Brian is married to Cara, and they have four children.
What does it look like for a Christian man to faithfully serve and care for his wife?
The great Princeton Theologian, B.B Warfield, is known as one of the toughest, boldest, and most biblically faithful American Theologians of the late nineteenth century. Even his typical burly glare in most of his pictures would send a liberal theologian running. Because of this, it may surprise you to read of Warfield’s legendary example in his joyful, sacrificial service to his invalid wife. David Calhoun, in his book on Princeton Seminary, vividly captures this powerful example:
Through all the years of their married life Dr. Warfield faithfully cared for his invalid wife. He guarded, protected, and stood by her while carrying his full teaching load and pursuing demanding writing assignments. The seminary students often noted his gentle and loving care for Mrs. Warfield as they walked together on Princeton streets and, later, back and forth on the porch of their campus home. Finally she was bedridden and saw few people besides her husband. By his own choice Dr. Warfield became almost confined to his house; he was never away from her for more than an hour or two at a time. He set aside time to read to her every day. They left Princeton only once in the ten years before her death, for a vacation that he hoped would help her. With his excellent health and varied interests Dr. Warfield must have felt this restriction, but he never complained.
Despite Warfield’s constant care of his wife, Gresham Machen believed Warfield had done “about as much work as ten ordinary men.” Warfield, like many others, can teach us much about theology, but he may be one of just a few celebrated men of history who by his life example can squash our weak excuses of neglect and challenge us to serve our wives with consistency, sacrifice, and longevity.
Once you have picked yourself off the floor from the beating of Warfield’s example, here are 5 previous posts to consider how to move forward from here:
One of the ways 9Marks seeks to help build healthy churches is through our events. Several times a year we host events all over the country (and globe) aimed at equipping church leaders with vision and resources building healthy churches that display God's glory to the nations. We've got a big year ahead of us for 2012, and we're excited to see what God has in store. We hope you will join us at these events we have planned for this spring and summer:
Our church is not big (speaking in terms of attendance and membership). I’d say that it’s small for a medium-sized church. But it’s growing, and attendance is certainly up from the 10 people who were here when I became the pastor. And what I’ve experienced is that as the church grows, more and more people find that it’s difficult to build relationships and get to know people in the congregation.
Now, in a weird way, I think this might be the particular bane of the medium-sized church. In a small church, it’s usually pretty easy to get to know most of the people. In a large church, people come in the door already knowing that they’re not going to get to know everyone. But in the medium-sized church, you’ve got some of the expectations of a small church alongside some of the challenges of size.
But as I’ve been thinking about this problem in our church, here’s what I’ve noticed: people who show up a lot usually aren’t lonely and disconnected. So for example: our church has a Sunday morning gathering, a Sunday evening gathering, small groups through the week, a fellowship meal once a month, a one-to-one Bible reading program, monthly men’s and women’s meetings, and a bunch of different community outreach and mercy ministries that are run by church members. Those are a lot of opportunities to connect with other people in the church. And in my observation, people who avail themselves of those opportunities almost always feel connected to others in the congregation. People who don’t show up for things, however, usually don’t feel as connected.
So it may sound a little old school (as in Hebrews 10:24-25), but there’s something to be said for the guy who wins the perfect attendance award. If you’re feeling like your church doesn’t have enough community, make sure that you’re plugging in to the opportunities that are offered. And don’t wait for someone to approach you, give them a call and invite them over for lunch after the Sunday gathering.
Are you looking for some great eBook resources at an affordable price? For a limited time only, you can purchase Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Crossway) for $3.49 on the Kindle and $3.99 on the Nook. These deals will likely only last a few days, so we encourage you to act quickly.
There are also great deals available on some other books that we recommend. Check out the great deals on these titles:
An Introduction to the New Testament, by D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo (Zondervan) [Kindle - $3.99]
Commentary on Galatians, by Martin Luther (Eerdmans) [Kindle - $2.99]
Justified by Faith Alone, by R.C. Sproul (Crossway) [Nook - $3.39]
HT: Joe Carter
How do you try to fill up your church building? And what does that say about your belief in the Holy Spirit?
TWO WAYS TO FILL A CHURCH
Nineteenth-century Baptist Francis Wayland suggests that there are basically two ways to fill a church (Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, 43-47). One is to preach in a way that is agreeable and inoffensive to both believers and unbelievers. The other is to preach in a way that highlights the difference between true religion and mere profession, and thus creates a sharp contrast between the church and the world.
The first approach seems reasonable. After all, why would non-Christians come to hear sermons about things they’ve never experienced and can’t understand? Why would non-Christians come to a church that highlights the fact that they are outsiders?
Yet Wayland argues that the price of this approach is far too steep. In order for his preaching to equally please Christians and non-Christians, a minister must “talk of generalities that mean nothing, or the trumpet must give an uncertain sound, so that no one will prepare himself for battle.”
Anticipating the natural objection, Wayland writes, “But it will be said, Are we then to drive away all but the children of God?”
His response compresses volumes of biblical wisdom into a mere five words: “I reply, Is there any Holy Ghost?”
Wayland’s point is that this whole line of thinking assumes that it’s finally up to us to convert people. It’s up to us to get them into the church building. It’s up to us to stir up their interest in the sermon. And it’s up to us to change their hearts and get them to repent and believe the gospel.
Wayland cuts through all of that by asking just whose power we’re depending on for the success of our ministry—ours, or the Holy Spirit’s?
IS THERE A HOLY SPIRIT?
“Is there a Holy Spirit?” I can think of few better questions to ask in order to assess whether our ministry strategies are faithful to Scripture.
You could put it like this: if there were no Holy Spirit, would your ministry work just as well?
What are you trying to accomplish in your ministry? Is that goal something that can be attained without the Holy Spirit?
What means are you using to carry out your ministry? Are they strategies and techniques that sociology, psychology, and common sense can fully explain? Or would your ministry methods prove utterly futile if the Holy Spirit didn’t sovereignly decide to work in and through them?
It’s easy to see, for example, how the promise of wealth will draw a crowd and convert them to your team. Same thing for the promise of better relationships, fewer conflicts, lower stress, or a better self-image. It’s easy to see how consummate presentation, engrossing music, and pleading appeals can generate adherents to whatever cause you’re promoting.
But none of these things need the Holy Spirit to make them work. All those strategies and messages can get along just fine without him.
SPIRIT-DEPENDENT MINISTRY IS WORD-DRIVEN MINISTRY
But let’s put this positively. What does ministry that depends on the Holy Spirit look like?
It looks like preaching to dead people and praying that the Holy Spirit would give life as only he can (Eph. 2:1-3). It looks like shining the light of the gospel as brightly as you can, and praying that the Spirit would give people eyes to see it (2 Cor. 4:6). It looks like aiming for things only the Holy Spirit can give to people: new loves, new hearts, new lives, new selves.
What means does the Holy Spirit use to give new life? God’s Word.
“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The Spirit causes us to be born again “through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23).
Therefore, Spirit-dependent ministry is by definition Word-centered and Word-driven ministry. Ministry that believes in the Holy Spirit trusts the Spirit-inspired Word to do the work God has promised it will do.
And to return to Wayland, he argues that such Spirit-dependent, Word-driven ministry will in fact fill churches:
If we preach in such a manner that the disciples of Christ are separate from the world, prayerful, humble, earnest, self-denying, and laboring for the conversion of men, the Spirit of God will be in the midst of them, and souls will be converted. The thing will be noised abroad. There is never an empty house where the Spirit of God is present.
Is there a Holy Spirit? There is, and he speaks through the Word. And when he speaks, the dead hear and rise to new life.
(To think more about ministry that depends upon the Spirit to bring new life, check out the new 9Marks Journal on conversion, especially the articles by Jonathan Leeman, Jeramie Rinne, and Owen Strachan.)
Michael Williams' new book How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens has been getting a good bit of attention lately, and rightly so. This short book consists of a chapter on every book of the Bible in which Williams, and Old Testament professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, provides the following:
- A super quick overview of the whole book;
- "The Jesus Lens," a thoughtful consideration aof how to relate the book to the gospel and readi it in light of the gospel;
- and "Contemporary Implications" and "Hook Questions" in which the author helps to bring the message of the book to bear on the Christian life in light of the gospel.
Williams' summaries are clear and helpful, the way he relates each book to Christ is skillful and hermeneutically sensitive, and his application questions are practical and gritty.
All this make sthe book extremely useful for pastors and church members. Here are a number of ways I could see a pastor or other church leader using this book:
- Consulting it when you begin a new preaching series as part of getting an overall feel for the book.
- Same thing for preaching an overview sermon, or a one-off message in a book that you haven't taught from before.
- Using it as a resource to inform teaching Sunday school classes through books of the Bible, especially overview classes or quick surveys.
- Using it as a discipling tool to help members read through the whole Bible. You could read through Williams' chapter together, then read through the biblical book, then discuss the biblical book at your next meting. Williams' book will help chuch members grow in their basic knowledge of Scripture and in their ability to apply any portion of Scripture to their lives, through the gospel.
Dr. Williams, thanks for serving us all through your work on this book. Pastors, I'd highly recommend picking up multiple copies: one to consult in your own study and preparation, and a large handful to give away.
I was very glad to hear that my friend Sam Allbery’s book Lifted has been released in the US by P&R. I don’t know of a book that does a better job of explaining the importance and implications of Jesus’ resurrection for the “person in the pew”. I plan on having copies on hand for our church members leading up to Easter and throughout the year. Here’s what others have said about Lifted:
- After Mark Dever recommended Lifted, the pastoral staff of Covenant Life Church all put aside time to read and discuss it--you should too. --Joshua Harris, Covenant Life Church
- Short, punchy, engaging -- a great book to give to others. It's popular theology without compromising the theology." -- Tim Chester
- Exactly what we need: joy-giving gospel truth, served up garden fresh. Read and rejoice! --Michael Reeves, Theological Advisor for UCCF
- Sam Allberry peppers good teaching with engaging illustrations which make this a very helpful book for everyone who wants to re-examine this truth." -- Adrian Warnock, Author of Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything
- Writing out of his years of ministry to university students and from his own Christian experience, Sam helps us to look to a familiar horizon with fresh eyes." -- Michael Jensen, Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia
- Sam Allberry has written a wonderful book on the significance of the resurrection. Full of great images, clearly organized, encouraging, humorous, Biblical, insightful… I could go on. Reading this little volume on this central but neglected topic will benefit your life. If you would like more assurance, transformation, hope & purpose, this book shows you how we get all that from the resurrection of Christ. -- Mark Dever
This morning we released the newest 9Marks Journal, on The Underestimated Doctrine of Conversion.
Jonathan Leeman writes in the editor's note, "There is underestimated power in the doctrine of conversion, but only if we get it right. Have you? Have your people? Does it show up in the habits, practices, and structures of your church’s life together?"
I warmly commend the whole issue to you. If you're looking for a place to start, let me suggest three:
"His Arm Is Strong to Save: A Trajectory of Conversion in America" by Owen Strachan
"Conversion and Your Church's Architecture" by Jeramie Rinne
"How 'Belonging Before Believing' Redefines the Church" by Michael Lawrence
(If you don't receive the Journal by email, click here to subscribe.)
To many, the Christian doctrine of conversion appears anything but beautiful. They say it’s coercive—“No one will force their beliefs on me!” Or it’s offensive—“Who are you to say that what I believe and how I live is wrong?”
In those senses, of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The most important thing about doctrine is not whether it’s ugly or beautiful, but whether it’s false or true. That said, the true doctrine of Christian conversion is just plain beautiful.
On one level, conversion is beautiful in the same way that all kinds of transformations are beautiful. In primary school, children study the metamorphosis of caterpillar to butterfly or tadpole to frog. In Sunday School, children learn how those transformations illustrate the change in a human heart from “dead in sin” to “new creation.” A flower blooms, an egg hatches, a baby bird spreads its wings for the first time. Each of these transformations is beautiful in its own way, but they are also all beautiful in the same way. In so many nooks and crannies of creation, God has hardwired the revelation of his glory which is brought to bear in the changing of spiritual death to eternal life.
One of the laws of the natural world is that things left to themselves don’t progress but regress. Everything dies. Yet in this very realm, God has encoded the beauty of change to something better here and there. Are these not all signposts to the wonder of salvation?
In fact, conversion is bigger than this. It is beautiful in its simplicity (think Romans 10:9) and in its complexity (think Ephesians 2:1-10).
But it’s not enough to say that salvation is beautiful. Let’s show.
BEAUTIFUL IN ITS ORCHESTRATION
Conversion is beautiful in its orchestration. There is a defining moment of conversion: one moment we don’t savingly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God has raised him from the dead, and the next moment we do.
That initial decision to believe, to lay hold of Christ with the empty hand of faith, is the moment a predestined sinner minding his own business gets tangled up in the ordo salutis. God’s crosshairs were on him from time immemorial, but now the effectual call has met its appointed time. The planned way of a man has been interrupted by God’s guidance of his steps (Prov. 16:9).
Conversion is in some sense both the fruition of God’s plan and one point along its route. It’s a decisive moment, but how much deliberation is behind that moment! We see the outline of this deliberation in Romans 8:30: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Our eyes can behold people repenting and professing their faith in Christ, but they cannot behold the eternal weight of glory leading up to it and flowing out after.
There are multiple volumes to write about each step in Romans 8:30’s outline. There is beauty within beauty within beauty. A mustard seed of faith planted in the broken heart of a desperate sinner is the culmination of God’s foreknowing this sinner from before the foundations of the earth. Even in eternity past God, in grace, overlooked the eternal offense of this individual’s cumulative lifelong sin, predestining him in love for adoption as a cherished son. And then God sent his only begotten Son to provide the sinless atonement for him, that he could be justified by the righteousness of Christ upon the Spirit’s regenerating of his stony heart. It’s simply staggering, isn’t it? And that this seed of justifying faith would grow through the faithfulness of the Father to administer a sanctifying faith, again through the Spirit’s work, all the way to the promise of glorification, is more staggering still.
BEAUTIFUL IN ITS PROMISE
Conversion is beautiful in its promise. And oh, that promise! Isn’t it getting at what we all really want? What saint and sinner alike hope for every day? Everyone wants change. Everyone wants to believe bad will become good, and wrong will be set right. We all have our ideas on how this can be accomplished, but everyone basically wants the same thing—life.
God has set eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), and every waking moment thereafter is an expression of worship of one god or another, the expression of our innate desperation for the real, the true, the lovely, the promise of better and righter. Bruce Marshall famously wrote, “The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” This is true for all our idolatries—be they sex or spirituality—but the overarching truth is that no one left to his own devices is seeking the God (Rom. 3:11). We want our gods to be God. What we are looking for is, in fact, found in the One whom we wickedly want to avoid.
So those who “find God” are actually those who are found by God. Our comforter the Spirit is scouring the earth, seeking whom he may raise to life. God is patient with his foreknown idolaters, not wanting any of us to perish but all of us to come to repentance. His Spirit turns the lights on in our heart, calls out “Come Forth” from the mouth of our tomb, and the unbelievable becomes believable. I can be different! I can change! I can know God and thereby know life! As the hymn says, “No guilt in life, no fear of death—this is the power of Christ in me!”
The gospel reveals the real hope for me and for this world. All the beauty of creation, of the arts, of the human striving for progress and enlightenment is summed up and found true in Jesus Christ incarnate, crucified, buried, resurrected, and glorified. And just as his resurrection is firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20-23), so our conversion to saving faith is the promise of conversion to immortality—that “we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:50-53).
BEAUTIFUL IN ITS MYRIAD WORKINGS
Conversion is beautiful in its myriad workings. The conversion of men to saving faith in Christ is beautiful in all the decisive moments it encompasses. Many in my generation and others “got saved” as we walked down an aisle, raised our hand, or repeated a formulaic prayer. And many in my generation who have become pastors will not resort to such special pleading in order to invite response to the gospel. We must all take care to make sure the biblical gospel is preached in biblical ways. But what a miracle that God uses fallible men exercising imperfect means to administer the perfect power of the good news of Jesus Christ!
I am not a dispensational pretribulational rapturist (anymore) but my conversion came after the Holy Spirit in his wisdom used a cheesy 1970’s “left behind” type of movie to soften my heart to desire Jesus for forgiveness and security. I would not employ such means today, but I am grateful that God is not snobby about the ways he brings his children to life. He doesn’t put on airs. His strength is perfected in our evangelistic weakness, even in our flawed preaching and pleading. It is amazing to me how God simultaneously works through and in spite of our gospel ministry.
All conversions to Christ result from finally beholding him as our Christ, the offering for our salvation. An obvious example is Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Very dramatic, that moment. For others, the moment is less dramatic. A child prays a prayer in children’s church. A man goes forward at the end of a church service. One fellow I know said he’d sat in church every Sunday for nearly three years before it finally occurred to him, “Wait—I need to be saved. I need to believe this.”
In his novel That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis in his inimitable way captures the ordinariness and the heaviness of one woman’s conversion:
What awaited her there was serious to the degree of sorrow and beyond. There was no form nor sound. The mould under the bushes, the moss on the path, and the little brick border, were not visibly changed. But they were changed. A boundary had been crossed. She had come into a world, or into a Person, or into the presence of a Person. Something expectant, patient, inexorable, met her with no veil or protection between…
In this height and depth and breadth the little idea of herself which she had hitherto called me dropped down and vanished, unflattering, into bottomless distance, like a bird in a space without air. The name me was the name of a being whose existence, she had never suspected, a being that did not yet fully exist but which was demanded. It was a person (not the person she had thought), yet also a thing, a made thing, made to please Another and in Him to please all others, a thing being made at this very moment, without its choice, in a shape it had never dreamed of. And the making went on amidst a kind of splendour or sorrow or both, whereof she could not tell whether it was in the moulding hands or in the kneaded lump…
The largest thing that had ever happened to her had, apparently, found room for itself in a moment of time too short to be called time at all. Her hand closed on nothing but a memory. And as it closed, without an instant’s pause, the voices of those who have not joy rose howling and chattering from every corner of her being.
“Take care. Draw back. Keep your head. Don’t commit yourself,” they said. And then more subtly, from another quarter, “You have had a religious experience. This is very interesting. Not everyone does. How much better you will now understand the Seventeenth-Century poets!”
...But her defenses had been captured and these counter-attacks were unsuccessful.
The demons oppose her, sometimes contradicting directly, sometimes changing the meaning of her experience. But nothing — not even angels or demons — can separate Jane from the love of God. So in the quiet of an English garden, as in the expectant prayers at the sanctuary altar, or in the solitude of a lonely soul reading a Bible in an armchair, eternity drops down.
The myriad ways God brings dead people to life are beautiful, some instantaneously recognizing stark new realities, others realizing of their need over time. Some hear the message for the first time and respond in faith. Others hear the message all their lives but do not have the spiritual “ears to hear” until some day far down the road. This is artful. There is God, in the vast array of human experience and daily life, in the mundane and the spectacular, rehearsing resurrection over and over again. And even the most ordinary of conversions is extraordinary. The angels celebrated no less for my daughter’s first expression of saving faith in her room at bedtime a few years ago than they did Paul’s 2,000 years ago. Every conversion is a miracle. And the great beatific vision of Christ makes beatific visions of us (2 Cor. 3:18).
BEAUTIFUL IN ITS SOURCE
Conversion is beautiful in its source. Because the Creator is glorious, all he does is glorious. And because of this vital truth, it is not true enough to say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Beauty lies objectively in the triune Godhead, whether beheld by mortals or not. David asks to dwell in the house of the Lord and to gaze upon the Lord’s beauty (see Ps. 27:4), but even if the Lord does not answer such prayers, his beauty is not diminished one bit.
On the other hand, God’s beauty—more often called his glory—is reflected, magnified even, in the increase of beholding. So one of the beauties of God’s raising dead men to new life is that they come to reflect his beauty in sermon and song and hearts filled with thanksgiving (Col. 3:16). After Peter witnessed the sufferings and resurrection of Christ, he was able to refer to himself as “a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Pet. 5:1). To answer the call of the gospel in saving faith, then, is in some way to obtain that beauty, and so magnify it. “To this he called you through our gospel,” Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:14, “so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Conversion is beautiful because God is beautiful. He is beautiful in the greatness and majesty of his glory, the weighty sum of all his attributes and qualities. The way the Bible talks about God’s beauty is, well, beautiful. From the holiness brought to bear in the Pentateuch narratives to the gushing of the psalmists to God’s epic reply to Job to the wonderment of the prophets to the witness of the Gospels to the epistles’ ecstatic exultations and divine doxologies to John’s bewildering apocalypse, the Bible is beautiful with God’s intrinsic and overwhelming beauty.
And this God—this marvelous, inscrutable, and holy God—knows us and loves us and chooses us and calls us and saves us. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). For all the beauty of conversion (and there is still more to be explored for all eternity), it is sourced in and overshadowed by the beauty of God himself, whose glory extends without limits for all time, as well as to us, that we would see it and know Jesus and be changed forever.
Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont and is the author, most recently, of Gospel Wakefulness (Crossway, 2011).
 Bruce Marshall, The World, The Flesh and Father Smith (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1945), 108.
 C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (New York: Macmillan, 1970), 318-319.