Bonus Content from December 9th

Sermon Questions from December 9th (“Covenant”)

Below are two wonderful questions I was asked following Sunday’s sermon.
 
What about the covenant God made with Adam (covenant of works)? I know some debate surrounds it, but Hosea 6:7 seems to place it as a covenant.
 
Time restrictions presented me from providing an exhaustive overview of the covenants spoken of the Bible. With more time, we could have talked about the priestly covenant with Aaron’s descendants, Job’s covenant with his eyes, and others. I began my sermon with God’s covenant with Noah and said it was the first use of the word “covenant” in the Bible. While that is true, many have understood God’s pre-fall relationship with Adam to involve a “covenant” of some sort (sometimes called a “covenant of works”).
 
The arguments for speaking of God’s arrangement with Adam as a “covenant” include that Hosea 6:7 seems to mention a covenant with Adam, and that Adam and Eve were given obligations and suffered consequences when they did not fulfill those obligations. The arguments against speaking of God’s arrangement with Adam as a “covenant” include that Hosea 6:7 may be talking about Israel breaking the covenant at a place called “Adam” (see Paul Williamson’s Sealed with an Oath for this case), that Genesis never uses the word “covenant” with regards to God’s relationship with Adam, that covenants ordinarily seal existing relationships instead of creating new relationships, and the implication (that some find uneasy) that Adam and Eve would have lived forever in a non-glorified state if they had never tasted the fruit.
 
Whether or not we use the word “covenant” to talk about God’s arrangement with Adam (I didn’t speak of it this way in my sermon to avoid taking a controversial stand on something that is less than clear), it may not matter much either way, practically speaking. Theologians on both sides of the debate agree that Adam was given obligations, that breaking those obligations had consequences with respect to his relationship with God, that breaking those obligations had disastrous effects for all of humanity and for the cosmos, and that Jesus is the second Adam who inaugurates a new humanity.
 
 
You were specific about how you saw the bow in the clouds (Genesis 9) and God’s walking between the pieces (Genesis 15) fulfilled at the cross. Are there other possible understandings of these texts?
 
An unfortunate dynamic in a sermon like this is that I didn’t have a chance to make a case for my interpretive decisions; I only had time to present them. It is right to question a preacher’s assertions like this – thank you for doing so!
 
I made the following claim: the bow was pointed upward in Genesis 9 because God knew that thousands of years later, the arrow aimed at the heavens in Genesis 9 would pierce Jesus on the cross. On this understanding, God was able to make His unconditional covenant with Noah only at great cost to Himself. The covenant sign, in hindsight, was a subtle pointer to that reality. However, other explanations have been offered for the bow in the clouds. For example, perhaps the bow was just a human way of viewing that semicircle shape, but God was really just restoring his “firmament” or “vault” in the skies to hold back the waters. Or perhaps God was intentional about using a weapon as His sign, but placing it in the clouds was meant to be a picture of His “hanging up his weapon,” so to speak, as He promised never to kill in this way again.
 
These are reasonable interpretive possibilities. I do believe that every word in Scripture is there for a reason, that nothing is accidental (Mt. 5:18). I also do believe that it becomes clear in the New Testament that God couldn’t make a promise like He made in Genesis 9 without something having to give – passing over generations of sin opens Him up to the charge of injustice/unrighteousness (Rom. 3:21-26)! In other words, a just God could only promise to pass over generations of sin if He planned to demonstrate His righteousness by punishing that sin another way. With the benefit of hindsight on this side of the cross, we can see that the “another way” was in the propitiation Jesus accomplished on the cross.
 
So then, the question for me becomes this: if we’re right that God knew He could only make the promise to Noah because He planned to take the punishment Himself on the cross thousands of years later, what does that mean for the bow in the clouds? To me, it seems that it could only mean one of two things: (1) God had this in mind as one of the reasons why He chose a “bow in the clouds” pointed upward as his covenant sign, or (2) This is a fitting meaning assigned to the bow in the clouds, but God wasn’t thinking of that meaning when He placed it in the clouds as His sign. The second seems unthinkable to me! How could we humans think we came up with a good idea for a fitting meaning of His bow that God Himself didn’t have first? It seems more likely to me that this was one of many intended layers of meaning God had in mind when He chose the bow in the clouds as His covenant sign with Noah.
 
You can probably imagine, then, what I’d say about Genesis 15. Sure, it’s possible that all God intended when He walked through the pieces was the claim, “If I don’t keep my end of this covenant, may this happen to me.” But with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that God actually intended to let that fate befall Him even though He knew He would never break the covenant like Abraham’s descendants would. So it stretches belief for me to think that the God “who declares the end from the beginning” (Is. 46:10) didn’t realize how, by walking between the pieces alone (in two forms!), He would paint a perfect picture of a promise to take the covenant curse for any breaking of the covenant that would subsequently occur.


Photo Directory: Submit Your Photos!

In response to popular demand, we are resurrecting the photo directory for North Suburban Church members and regular attenders.
 
Our goal is that in early 2019, our current directory would be expanded to include photos for each family!
 
Here are the two ways you can help us have a photo for you and your family:
 
OPTION 1: Send us an existing electronic copy of a photo of your family that you like. Be sure that it is good quality and everyone’s face can be seen clearly! Email the picture as an attachment to northsub@northsub.com.
 
OPTION 2: If you don’t have a picture you like, come to the Christmas Café with your family on December 9th or 16th. Photographers will be available to take a picture that can be used for the directory.
 
The deadline for submitting pictures is January 13th, 2019. Thank you for helping us create a complete directory!
 
One more note: if you have a good digital camera and experience taking pictures, we could use a couple more photographers to fill out the team on 12/9 and 12/16! Contact karensantelik.northsub@gmail.com to let her know you’re available.


Thanksgiving Eve 2018

 
Wednesday, November 21, at 7pm, we will have a brief Thanksgiving service with some treats afterward. The service helps us to remember what Thanksgiving Day is all about by giving us the opportunity to come together and give thanks to God!
 
Come participate in uplifting songs of thanksgiving, receive a short message from God’s Word, and consider briefly sharing what you are most thankful to God for during this past year. After the service, hot apple cider and goodies will be served in the foyer.
 
This is a wonderful opportunity to invite your family and friends (children and adults!) to join you in celebration. Come start your holiday weekend by focusing on thanksgiving to God.


Requesting Stories

Advent Stories
 
Have a story to share? This Advent, we’d love to highlight a handful of stories of God at work in the lives of our congregation.
 
See here for a summary of our Advent series to understand the vision for the four services. In keeping with that vision, there are particular types of stories we’d like to showcase:
 
Week 1 (Rest): How have you found Jesus’ words to be true: “I will give you rest”? Do you have a story about finding rest in Jesus?
 
Week 2 (Covenant): How have you found God to be faithful to His promises? Have you ever doubted one of His promises, only to see it be fulfilled?
 
Week 3 (Messiah): How have you found Jesus to be your Savior and King? Have you ever tried other “functional saviors/messiahs” and found that they failed you?
 
Week 4 (Sonship):  How have you found God to be a Father? Jesus to be a brother? How have you experienced inclusion into God’s own family (Familial love? Fatherly discipline?)?
 

If you have a story that relates in any way to one of these themes, please contact Robbie or one of the pastors. Thank you!



Bonus Content from October 28th

“A Disputable Matter” (Romans 14:1-12)
 
The following are some questions asked following Sunday’s sermon.
 
1)         What about other forms of political engagement besides voting?
 
Can we participate in marches? Can we run for office ourselves? Can we donate to a candidate? In all these questions, we would just use the same grid as the one laid out for voting in the sermon. In other words, you can’t bomb an abortion clinic. At the same time, you can’t turn a blind eye to abortion. Those are essentials. You can’t assassinate racists. You can’t practice racism. Those are all essentials. They are not Romans 14 issues. But beyond that category of essentials, how each person works out these principles in the more jagged-line aspects of their political engagement (whether they go to a march, whether they run for office, whether they give money to a candidate) is between them and God, and must be done from a heart that aims to bring Him glory.
 
2)         You indicated that some jagged-line issues require sociological, historical, and political considerations in order to apply biblical principles to our present day. But isn’t this a slippery slope? Doesn’t this thinking lead to something like, “The Bible’s restrictions were for another culture; they don’t apply to us now?”
 
My first response here would be, “What’s the alternative? Is there an option in which we don’t  factor in cultural considerations to apply biblical principles?” Upon reflection, it becomes clear that there actually isn’t an option to “just stick to the Bible” without considering culture. How do I know who to vote for? The Bible doesn’t tell me how to vote. All of us who don’t kiss everyone we greet at church (Rom. 16:16, etc.) or require head coverings for women (1 Cor. 11) are taking into consideration cultural factors when applying biblical principles to our own situation; none of us are culture-free. The question isn’t whether we consider culture but rather how well we consider culture. Sure, acknowledging the role of cultural factors will lead some to throw out clear biblical commands, claiming that those commands are culturally bound. But the answer to that isn’t to claim no biblical commands are culturally based; the answer is to make a biblical case for why one command is static and another is altered when applied today.
 
3)         What would you say to someone who is a single-issue voter (say someone who only votes based on a candidate’s position about abortion or immigration)? Are they being wise by creating a straight-line issue on one category at the expense of other issues?
 
To clarify one part of this question, I don’t believe we “create” straight-line issues. I was advocating that we try to identify straight-line issues. We can identify them as straight-line because the Bible is just as clear about the application (“don’t cheat on your wife”) as it is about the principle (“marriage is meant to reflect Christ and the church”). So the question is, does scripture itself draw a straight line on this issue?
 
So this question really is asking something like this (to use abortion as an example): “Can we draw a straight line from the biblical principle ‘abortion is wrong because all murder is wrong’ to the application ‘I should always vote for the candidate who opposes abortion’?” In short, I don’t think we can draw an exactly straight line that leads to being a “single-issue voter” on any one issue, precisely because the Bible doesn’t talk about voting. For that reason, there will always be the added step: “What is a vote for?” That step requires wisdom that incorporates some understanding of our political system.
 
However, as I said on Sunday, the “straight-line/jagged-line” distinction is a spectrum, not a binary difference. Some issues are more (or less) straight-line than others. If we were looking for a single issue on which to vote, one issue on which the Bible was as “straight line” as possible, it is probably “justice.” That’s the summary of what the Bible teaches about good government: good government is just government. Based on that principle, one Christian may conclude, “Abortion is the greatest justice issue of our time. Therefore, I will never vote for a pro-choice candidate.” Another Christian may conclude, “If the pro-life candidate is committed to injustice in enough other areas of policy, those injustices may outweigh their commitment to justice for unborn children.” Each should be fully convinced in their own mind, but both should be thinking in terms of justice.
 
4)         As present-day culture produces increasingly unanimous but wrong moral stances on certain moral issues, would the decision for a Christian to take a stand against an issue have anything to do with how difficult the popular culture makes it for us to take a stand?
 
The culture making it difficult might affect the methods we use when we take a stand, but it should not affect the decision to stand. That decision ought always to be based on our conviction of what we’ve read in God’s Word. When God’s Word says it, we should stand on it, no matter how unpopular it may be.
 
5)         Would an anti-slavery Christian and a pro-slavery Christian have a more urgent need to get along or rather to take the right stand that might make it challenging to unite? Another way to ask this question would be, “Is slavery an essential or non-essential matter?”
 
You may remember that I explained on Sunday that on essential matters, being right is more important than unity. On non-essential matters, unity is more important than being right. This distinction explains why in the same letter, Paul can speak of division in the church as both a positive (1 Cor. 11:19) and a negative (1 Cor. 1:10). It all depends on how important the issue in view is.
 
I’m assuming that the slavery spoken of in this question is the American version of chattel slavery practiced until 1865. In that case, I don’t see slavery as an agree-to-disagree Romans 14 issue. Even the Old Testament firmly stands against slavery that involves the kidnapping and forced enslavement of free people (Ex. 21:16), which was the whole basis for American chattel slavery. Nowhere is that practice condoned in scripture. In short, slavery is enough of a straight line in scripture that I see it as essential – in other words, it would be more important to get it right than to be united. We would excommunicate a member who persisted in advocating chattel slavery.


Bonus Content from October 21st

“Our Real Enemy” (Eph. 6:10-12)
 
Below are five questions that were submitted during Sunday’s sermon. For more study on these topics, don’t forget the resources we have suggested:
  • Listen to the three-week 2016 North Sub Life Course “Gospel-Shaped Political Dialogue” (scroll to the bottom of the linked page for audio).
  • Read Onward by Russell Moore. This is a practically theological book about navigating life in our political moment, written by one of the top evangelical ethicists of our time.
  • Read How the Nations Rage by Jonathan Leeman. Leeman is an elder at a Southern Baptist church in Washington, DC, that has been leading the way for twenty years for evangelicals seeking to faithfully navigate these issues.
  • Read The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. While he’s not writing as an evangelical, and this isn’t a theological work, it contains important insights about shifts in how people now make decisions about what is good and right and true.
 
You mentioned boycotts as “a weapon of the world,” in contrast to “the weapons of the Lord.” Are all boycotts wrong?
When Christians try to loudly mobilize a mass boycott of a corporation because of practices that are antithetical to our beliefs, we are in danger of fighting with the world’s weapons (i.e. “might makes right,” getting our way with numbers and purchasing power). However, if a Christian decides privately to conduct a personal boycott of the goods or services of a particular corporation because of moral scruples with that corporation, this is of course a different matter. In this case, the Christian is not battling to regain political power (the corporation in question will never notice one less customer!). Instead, the Christian is simply declining to give their money to something they can’t support in good conscience, an admirable course of action.
 
You said that our political opponents are (at worst) Prisoners of War behind enemy lines, not enemy combatants. Is there no sense in which some of our political opponents are actually fighting in Satan’s army?
This question requires a nuanced response, because the biblical writers can use different metaphors in different places to emphasize different aspects of an issue. I preached Sunday from Ephesians 6:10-12. As Paul writes that passage, it is clear that he does not view any humans as enemy combatants – otherwise, we would wrestle against “flesh and blood.” However, Paul can write elsewhere in the same letter that we once were following Satan and carrying out his wishes before we were saved (Eph. 2:1-3). In that sense, are unbelievers not soldiers in Satan’s army, doing his bidding? This is an important nuance. Many people are carrying out Satan’s orders, having been blinded by him. One day, they will be enemy combatants (Rev. 20:7-10). For now, I do think the thrust of Ephesians 6:10-12 aims at our viewing them not as enemy soldiers but rather as hapless POWs who have been brainwashed to carry out orders for the one who has deceived them. We don’t rage against them; we rage against the one who has taken them captive.
 
The final three questions were similar to each other (see below). My intent is to address these in this Sunday’s sermon (10/28). If one of these questions was yours, but it remains unanswered after Sunday’s sermon, please do ask it again.
 
I agree that you should not as a believer label yourself and identify yourself with one party. But shouldn’t Christians be aware and vote for the candidate that aligns more with the scripture and live by it? Many preachers such as Tony Evans, Billy Graham, and more have voted for specific candidates (not party) that are living their principles through the word of God.
 
You made a lot of points about how to act when interacting with other people ABOUT politics, but how would you advise someone to act in the voting booth? Would you not advise?
 
Should Christians remain politically independent or are we permitted to join the lesser of two “evils”?


Advent 2018: “Who Is He?”

Invite a Friend!
 
We’re excited for our 2018 Advent sermon series, and we hope you’ll think about who you might bring with you for one of our four Advent services.
 
Most of us have heard a sermon along the way that talked about how Jesus fulfilled some of the specific prophecies in the Old Testament. And he did that! But Jesus isn’t just the fulfillment of specific verses in the Hebrew Bible; he is the fulfillment of entire, huge themes found there. That’s what we’re going to be looking at during the four weeks of Advent (see below for a more detailed description).
 
A lot of work has gone into planning these special services, and they’ll be great for a Christian friend, a Jewish friend, or a friend of another faith or no faith. Pick them up for church and then make plans to stay afterwards for awhile in the Christmas Café that will be set up in the gym.
Series Overview
 
We often talk at Christmastime about specific prophecies Jesus fulfilled. Consider these two examples:
Micah 5:2 says Messiah will be born in Bethlehem…
… Matthew 2:1 says Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Isaiah 9:1-2 says Messiah would minister in Galilee…
… Matthew 4:12-17 says Jesus started his ministry there.
 

But Jesus doesn’t only fulfill specific prophecies; there are entire Old Testament themes that find their fulfillment in Jesus. This Advent, we will be preaching four of those themes:

  • Rest (12/2): God’s people wandering the desert were looking for rest after years of slavery. They found it in the promised land. It all pointed to an ultimate rest that would be ours in Jesus.
  • Covenant (12/9): God showed Himself to be a promise-making God. He made good on those promises in the person of Jesus.
  • Messiah (12/16): There were many messiahs in the OT, figures anointed for a particular purpose. They were all pointing to Jesus, the ultimate messiah to come.
  • Sonship (12/23): God called Israel his son, called the messianic kings of Israel his sons. Then Jesus came as the ultimate son: the ultimate Israel and the ultimate messianic king of Israel.
 

We hope this series will accomplish the following big-picture goals:

  • Make much of Jesus
  • Deepen our appreciation for scripture (even the more obscure parts)
  • Strengthen our knowledge of how the whole Bible works together
  • Create anticipation for Christ’s return
 

In addition, we see the following points of connection to our everyday experience:

  • Rest (12/2): We live in a fast-paced, demanding culture in which we are expected to constantly perform. In such a world, many of us come to church on a Sunday morning exhausted. That feeling is compounded as we try all week to follow Jesus but are repeatedly discouraged by our failure to do so perfectly.
  • Covenant (12/9): We have all broken promises; we have experienced others breaking their promises to us. We feel the weight of knowing we haven’t upheld our end of the deal in God’s covenant with us (e.g. “walk before me and be blameless”), and we struggle with fear that God has given up on us.
  • Messiah (12/16): We tend to put our hope in human leaders whom we imagine to be greater than they are. When they inevitably let us down, it can be hard to deal with. Is there any true hero, any leader who won’t disappoint?
  • Sonship (12/23): We have a yearning to be included in God’s family. In an increasingly individualistic world, we feel a lack of belonging, an isolation. Some of us have been raised in a Christian tradition that emphasized the transactional nature of the gospel but not the relational nature of the gospel. Perhaps the highest blessing of the gospel is that we get adopted into God’s family because of the work of His true Son, the only-begotten, our elder brother Jesus.
 
We hope you’ll make plans to join us for these services and to invite friends who have yet to encounter this Jesus.


Why the Church Can’t Stay Out of Politics

Statistics are confirming what we all sense to be true: our nation is becoming more polarized, with both liberals and conservatives feeling increasing hatred for those with opposing viewpoints. In such a cultural moment, it is an incredible opportunity for the church of Jesus Christ to be a peculiar entity, one in which people with divergent views are nonetheless deeply united in love for one another. However, we have an enemy who wants nothing more than to use the events of the day to divide us.
 
Many of you have shared with us how difficult it is to maintain your Christian witness while engaging in conversations about controversial current events and politically charged issues. We believe the church is not only permitted but is required to help her members think through these complicated issues in a biblically-rooted, appropriately nuanced manner. For that reason, we will be spending the three Sundays preceding the upcoming election preaching through a series called “Christians in a Contentious Climate.”
 
While many have expressed excitement about being equipped through a series like this one, some of you undoubtedly responded to this news with a groan. “I go to church to get away from politics!” you say. “I don’t want my church to be political.” While it may seem like wisdom for a church to avoid political issues, we in leadership at North Sub don’t actually believe that avoidance is a faithful (or even possible) course of action. Below, find five reasons why.
 
1)         If Jesus is Lord, He is Lord of every aspect of our lives, including of our political engagement. Centuries ago, Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper noted, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” That is what we mean when we call Him “Lord” – He is the Master of our entire existence; He calls the shots. If Christ is truly Lord of our lives, then He is Lord of our money, our sexuality, and even our politics. Our politics must not be treated as a separate sphere sequestered from our faith.
 
2)         The Bible has things to say about good government and about our participation in it. To be sure, the Bible doesn’t specify much about the minutiae of many specific issues of our day (tax structures, zoning ordinances, etc.). However, the scriptures do speak clearly on some government-related issues, and the Word even teaches that secular governments are obligated before God to fulfill certain duties. Furthermore, the Bible’s teachings on issues like justice, mercy, and rule of law also should shape our Christian political consciences – even if individual Christians read the scriptures and practically apply those broad principles in different ways. To use a specific example, while sincere Christians might disagree on immigration policy, the basis of our disagreement ought to be our differences of opinion on what biblical teachings like justice, mercy, and rule of law look like in practice… not about whether governments should be just, merciful, or enforce rule of law.
 
3)         If we don’t help people navigate these issues, someone else will. Speaking as someone called to be an undershepherd of a flock for whom Christ died, I am burdened that if the godly shepherds of the people offer no guidance on political engagement, the only guidance most of our people will receive will come from social media or cable news. We must not abdicate our responsibility to equip the people of God to live out the Christian life in this world; we certainly must not surrender it into the hands of voices that aren’t governed by the lordship of Christ.
 
4)         For a church to stay out of politics is itself a political statement. Consider the church in 1860 Alabama that never preached on slavery because “that’s a political issue, and we aren’t political.” Or consider the church in 1939 Germany that never preached about the Nazi party because “that’s a political issue, and we aren’t political.” It should be clear that those churches were not remaining apolitical by their silence; in fact, their silence was a very loud political statement about where they stood. We see, then, that it’s not just good for the church to be political; it’s actually unavoidable.
 
5)         There is a difference between being political and being partisan.  By acknowledging that we’re about to get “political,” we aren’t saying that we’re about to get “partisan.” Never will North Sub endorse a political candidate. Never will North Sub offer voter guides (which always seem to end up being partisan, even if they claim otherwise). We aren’t going to “take sides” regarding this upcoming election; in fact, we are going to call people to remember the radical political statement of the early church living in the time of Caesar: “Jesus is Lord.”
 
In short, it’s neither desirable nor possible for a church to be apolitical. For that reason, we are carefully and prayerfully stepping into these delicate issues in hopes that as a church family, we can affirm our unity and spur one another on to living all of life under the Lordship of One Lord and King.
 
If you want to explore other resources in conjunction with this series:
  • Listen to the three-week 2016 North Sub Life Course “Gospel-Shaped Political Dialogue” (marked March 19th, March 27th, and April 6th, 2017, on the bottom of our Adults page)
  • Read Onward by Russell Moore. This is a practically theological book about navigating life in our political moment, written by one of the top evangelical ethicists of our time.
  • Read How the Nations Rage by Jonathan Leeman. Leeman is an elder at a Southern Baptist church in Washington, DC, that has been leading the way for twenty years for evangelicals seeking to faithfully navigate these issues.
  • Read The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. While he’s not writing as an evangelical, and this isn’t a theological work, it contains important insights about shifts in how people now make decisions about what is good and right and true.


Bonus Content from October 14th

“Regular Repentance” (Various Texts)

The first question I address below was texted in during Sunday’s sermon. The rest of the questions below give me the chance to share some extra material that had to be cut from my sermon because of time constraints.
 
1) Did Adam repent?
 
If this question is about the interaction between Adam and God in Genesis 3:8-13, it certainly seems that Adam’s posture bears more of the marks of blame-shifting and excusing than of genuine repentance. This initial interaction immediately following that first sin may not have involved much true repentance.
 
If this question is about whether Adam ever did genuinely repent subsequent to this interaction, I’m not sure we are given much to go on one way or another in the Bible. As the story continues, it seems like Adam and Eve are living life obeying and acknowledging the Lord (Gen. 4:1), although we are not given much detail about any particular moment after Genesis 3:13 in which Adam’s heart softened.
 
2) You began this series by asserting that a disciple is a follower of Jesus, forever becoming more like Him. How can it be a mark of a disciple to repent, if Jesus never repented?
 
That’s a good point! Our other ten marks of a disciple are about walking the path in the dust of Jesus’ sandals; this one is what we do when we recognize we’ve left the path. In other words, for us sinful followers of Jesus, we ironically can’t be like him without doing this one thing (repentance) that he never did.
 
3) I understand the idea of repenting of our unrighteousness, but I’m still confused about the idea of repenting of our righteousness.
 
This Tim Keller quote might be helpful: “To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do, you may remain just an elder brother. To truly become a Christian we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right. Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too. We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness – the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord. We must admit that… in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of those things. It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord—lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness—that you are on the verge of becoming a Christian indeed. When you realize that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink. If you follow through, it will change everything—how you relate to God, self, others, the world, your work, you sins, your virtue.” See the excellent book Prodigal God for a full treatment of this very important teaching.
 
4) Do we really have to be so zealous in our fight against sin?
 
If we think we’re repentant but we haven’t yet been zealously extreme in getting rid of the causes of that sin in our lives, it could be that we’re more sorry for the consequences of our sin than we are for our sin itself. Examples: if you say you’re sorry for looking at porn but still use an unrestricted smartphone and laptop – if you say you’re sorry for your anger problems but say it’s too much of a burden on your life to go to counseling – that’s not repentance.
 
Perhaps you push back: “You don’t understand what an inconvenience it would be to me to make the change you’re suggesting I make.” However inconvenient it is, Jesus doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for our inconvenience. He says that none of our sin-fighting measures are more inconvenient than losing an eye or a hand; none of them are more inconvenient than eternity in hell. When the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were apparently feeling the weight of fighting sin, the author of the letter says something astonishing: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb. 12:4). In other words, if in your efforts to get rid of the sin in your life, you haven’t bled yet, you still have a way to go. The life of repentance requires Spirit-empowered zeal.


Bonus Content from September 30th

“Grounded in Scripture” (Various Texts)
 
I had to condense my treatment of John 10:34-36 for the sake of time. Below find a fuller explanation of that passage:
 
John chapter 10. Jesus has just called himself the Son of God. The Jewish religious leadership pick up stones to throw at him, because this is blasphemy. What happens next? John 10:34-36. “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, “I am the Son of God”?’”
 
What just happened? Jesus pulls out scripture, and not just any scripture. He refers to Psalm 82, a pretty obscure psalm about powerful people who act like they are “gods” and oppress the weak and poor. In verses 6-7 of that psalm, God speaks and says, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”
 
Jesus knows Psalm 82 inside and out because he has taken the time to immerse himself thoroughly in the Bible. As a result, when people are about to kill him for claiming to be the Son of God, he’s able to point out their error, and he does it along these lines: “If you’re going to kill me, you’re going to need more against me than that I called myself the son of God! After all, God himself calls ordinary people ‘sons of the Most High’ and even calls them ‘gods’ in Psalm 82!” And then Jesus is like, “Let me just remind you: the scripture cannot be broken!” Both Jesus and his opponents knew the scripture couldn’t be broken – that it was the final word on every matter – so Jesus didn’t get killed that day.
 
When Jesus is challenged, he argues from scripture. When you are challenged, where do your arguments come from? Even when it comes to making church decisions, it’s so easy even for church leaders to get so absorbed in the way the world does business and organizational leadership that our own arguments start to mirror the latest fads in the latest leadership books. Many churches today make their decisions regarding worship style and governance and the role of men and women and how to focus their resources based on what works in corporations, or based on metrics, or based on what the people say they want… with very little attention given to what the Bible says about the issue at hand. When it comes time to argue a case, what you’ve filled yourself up with – whether it’s scripture or self-help books or cable news or TED talks by leadership gurus – that’s what will come spilling out.
 
There were three questions/comments texted in that I didn’t have time to respond to before the end of the service:
 
1) How do we answer when people say we are not to judge others?
 
“Judge not, lest you be judged” (Mt. 7:1) is a favorite verse of this generation. It’s a way people can justify living however they want without anyone calling them out on it. However, we must not assume that the “judging” in this verse includes EVERYTHING we would consider judging.
 
The first problem is that it is humanly impossible to avoid judgment. To say, “You are wrong for judging me” is itself to make a judgment! We all judge all the time – “She’s pretty; that’s a good deal; I like this album more than that one; that game was fun; that guy is awkward.” If all that were included in the judgment prohibition, how could any of us function? And of course, when somebody judges me to be handsome, smart, funny, or talented, I’m thankful for their judgment and admire their discernment (I’ve yet to meet anyone who quotes Matthew 7:1 in response to someone judging them positively).
 
The second problem with the claim that Matthew 7:1 prohibits all judgment is that many other scriptures seem to work against that understanding. Yes, Matthew 7:1-2; Luke 6:37; Romans 2:1; Romans 13:3-4, 10; 1 Corinthians 4:3-4; Colossians 2:16-17; James 2:1-4; and James 4:11-12 all seem to caution us against judging in some sense. But what about Matthew 19:28; John 7:21-24; 1 Corinthians 5:12-13; and 1 Corinthians 6:2-5?
 
I don’t have space here to expound each of the above texts, but I would highly recommend looking each of them up and exploring what they say. Here’s my own synthesis of what I see in those verses:
 

Only God can judge…

  • Nonbelievers
  • Anyone’s worth/value
  • Anyone’s salvation status

…but we are called to judge…

  • Whether or not teachings are false
  • Christians in unrepentant sin
  • Only when we’re not guilty of the same sin
 
2) How do we discern/trust between what is truly God’s word and intent vs. what man has interpreted it to be?
 
This question comes from a portion of the sermon in which I asserted that the problem with “Bible thumpers” who misuse the Bible is not that they have too high a view of scripture, but rather that they have too high a view of their own interpretation of scripture. So this question is the logical one: how do we know the difference?
 
The most important factor in discerning the difference is to read the Word for yourself. When someone makes an assertion that isn’t a word-for-word quote of scripture, we can ask them what scriptures they had in mind when they made that assertion. Then we can return to those scriptures for ourselves. As we read, we ask, “What are the possible interpretations of this verse/passage?” Answering that question will involve our knowledge of the rest of the Bible (why a daily reading plan is so important), our knowledge of what other Christians believe (free commentaries can be found at blueletterbible.org), and basic reading comprehension skills. If there are other possible interpretations besides the one proposed, and one or more of those possible interpretations seems to square with the rest of the Bible, has had some support among Christians, and fits the grammar of the text, then that is an interpretation of God’s Word, not God’s Word itself. Instead of claiming, “this is what God says,” we ought to hold it more loosely.
 
3) Important to note that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of believers to confirm the truth of scripture.
 
This isn’t a question as much as a comment, but I do think this is a critical point to reiterate. The Bible attests to itself, but some remain unconvinced. However, for those called by God, he says, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). As we read the words of scripture, the Spirit resounds with the spirit inside of us to confirm that what we are reading is different from any other written words in existence. We recognize this to be a transcendent word, a word from God himself. No amount of intelligence or training could make us recognize this; only the Holy Spirit can impress it upon our hearts.