My Neighbors: Guilt and Grace


So, let me tell you about my neighbors: Guilt and Grace.

Guilt is a difficult person to be around. He is very caring, but he has a habit of taking up much of my time. He’ll go on and on about the little things- he is a bit of a loud mouth. He has a lot of valid points, but he thinks way too much. Some days, I avoid him and hope to never see him again; but, even when I change my phone number, he will find it and start calling again. No matter how hard I try to console him, he always finds something else to worry about. He doesn’t seem to let anything go; he refuses to move to another neighborhood. He’ll file reports with the housing district, because my yard doesn’t look like everyone else’s.

I’ve caught him watching me when I’m trying to sleep- he says it’s just a security measure, to keep me from making a mistake and to keep the wrong people out. He carries a book with him, and sometimes he reads it to me: it has a list of all the things I failed to do this week, even going back to my childhood! He’s like the uncle I never had; he’s always keeping an eye out for me. My friend, Self-Righteousness, often joins us for dinner. Whenever Guilt would bring up a problem with my time-management, Self-Righteousness would start gossiping about my neighbors who do the same thing. Self-Righteousness is a good friend, I’m not sure why no one else likes him. He’s very encouraging and always finds a way to reassure me that I am as good as I think I am.

Sometimes, Guilt comes to my house to give me an intervention. He’s been watching all of my movements lately, it’s getting a bit creepy. The other day, I was about to leave to run an errand when Guilt stopped me. He wanted to remind me not to forget the to-do list he gave me- it was very important. He said it meant a lot to him. It was to help make up for the things in his book; he promised to erase them if I did exactly what he said. He said it would take a burden off of him if I got to it immediately. He can be controlling, but I know he wants what’s best for me. The problem is that the list keeps getting bigger, and I’m running out of time to do these things. Guilt is going to be very upset if I don’t make it up to him somehow.

Grace is very sweet; she’s like a sister to me. I haven’t seen her much lately. When I come over to her house, I usually see her Father: He adopted me when I was younger, and raised me the way a father should. No matter what I’ve done, He always accepts me with open arms. He disciplines like any father, but He never condemns me or regrets adopting me. He feeds me, clothes me, and shows me where to go. Grace always sends me gifts and tells me not to pay her back- without Grace, I wouldn’t know Father or His Son, Jesus. They sent Holy Spirit with me. One of the things He does is make sure Guilt stays away. Apparently, Guilt is also friends with Law, and they have been working together to make sure I stay away from the Father.

Whenever Guilt bothers me, I go to Father’s house. He tells me to stay away from Guilt, and confront Him; He told me that His Son, Jesus, went to Guilt on my behalf. He settled all of my debts, but I don’t know how He could have done that, because I still mess up. Guilt keeps finding new things to pin on me. Father says that I am forgetting Grace’s gifts, one of which includes something called The Gospel. I remember the story; it was written down awhile ago. It turns out that Jesus fulfilled everything on Guilt’s list, and told Guilt to treat His list as mine. Apparently, Jesus’ list had nothing on it. So, Guilt shouldn’t be coming to my house at all.

Grace has also sent me a recipe for Sanctification-Cake- the instructions are to stir faith, hope, and love in a bowl until I see Holiness begin to bubble. Grace’s food is much tastier than Guilt’s, “creations.” Holy Spirit also gave me a book to read called Scripture. He wrote it with lots of men who experienced Guilt but went to Father and with His help defeated him.

Some met Jesus and talked about Him in the most amazing ways, all of the stories are true! The men who wrote the Scriptures still met Guilt every now and then, but the Father forgave them because of Jesus and pointed them to the hope they have in Him. Jesus also talked about Paradise- the new housing development we’ll move into someday with Father. Guilt, Sin, Death, Satan and every other cranky person won’t be there.

Grace says that there is nothing I can do to take away Guilt; Guilt is very forgetful about the Gospel. He has Hellzheimers, and that’s why I need to confront him: So that he’ll remember his book of wrongs means nothing. She says that although I should acknowledge Guilt, he shouldn’t be my friend any longer. She says that Repentance is a relative of Guilt’s, but he knows the Father- Holy Spirit and Jesus tell me to become close friends with Repentance. He won’t lead me astray, and keeps me in close company with the message of the Gospel.

She gave me a necklace and said to put it on; written on it is the story of what happened when Jesus settled my debts with Guilt. She says that although Guilt may tell me to do things that are right, he will never be satisfied with anything that I do. She says that Father loves me and has talked to Law; Law has agreed not to report a record of wrongs to Guilt, but to help show me the will of Father. Oh, and Self-Righteousness? It turns out he isn’t such a good friend after all; he was stealing my supply of Humility that Grace gave me.

Guilt hasn’t shown up much anymore- when he does, I remind him about Jesus, and he walks away. Repentance is close by, and reminds me to keep fighting the good fight and to always love Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Soon the fight will be over and we will be in Paradise.

Basic Theology: Doctrine of God


From the moment we think about God, we enter into the study known as theology. Theology is a word that literally means, “words about God” or thoughts of God (from two Greek words: “Theos” meaning God, and “Logos” means words or logic). So, if you have ever had an opinion about God, or wondered if He even exists, you are therefore, in practice, a theologian. With this in mind, we need to realize that God has gifted us human beings with minds that are already capable of learning about Him (Genesis 1:27). So, the issue is not whether you are able to learn about God; rather, the question is whether or not your thoughts about God are correct.

In this post I would like to talk to you about the doctrine of God. The word doctrine simply means, “a teaching with authority”- this is important because what we closely listen to has the authority to speak into our lives. The source of our learning matters. We need to correct our misconceptions by going directly to God’s word: the Bible, instead of musicians, politicians, and other people.

Theological professors describe the doctrine of God as theology proper. This is because theology serves no purpose unless we begin with God (the subject of our thoughts). If God does not exist, then theology has no purpose, but is just a theory. But if God exists, then theology deals with the reality of our lives down to a micro-level. It is crucial to your Christian life to know who God is; if your thoughts about God are false, then everything in your life will be seen incorrectly. You will not live a life that worships God because you won’t know what pleases Him (Hebrews 13).

Christianity teaches that God has revealed Himself in two major ways: in Creation (planets, galaxies, animals, people, et ), and in His book (what we call the Bible). These are called general and special revelation: one teaches us that God is a Creator, that there are rules He put in place, that we have morality and whatever else we can observe in nature (general revelation). The other, teaches us that we are sinners, that we have turned against God, but He has made a way to come back to Him through Jesus Christ (special revelation).

General revelation:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20 NASB)

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. (Psalms 19:1, 2 NASB)

Special revelation:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12, 13 NASB)

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17 NASB)

Although many of us have a working knowledge of general revelation, this knowledge cannot teach us specifically who God is. This is why we need to hear from God directly in the Bible. The next question we need to ask is, what does God teach us about Himself? The answer is too long to fit into this page. But, here’s a quick overview of God explaining Himself to us:

1) There is only one God. He is absolutely in control of everything that comes to pass. He is all-powerful (omnipotent).

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isaiah 46:8-10 ESV)

2) He is perfect, He has no flaws.

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. (Psalm 18:30 ESV)

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. (James 1:13 ESV)

3) He knows everything- everything past, present, and future. Even potential futures.

For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths. (Proverbs 5:21 ESV)

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:19, 20 ESV)

4) He is a perfect and just Judge. He will punish sin. But, He is also a God of mercy who offers forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6, 7 ESV)

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23 ESV)

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, (Romans 8:3 ESV)

5) He is unchanging, or immutable.

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6 ESV)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17 ESV)

When you learn about God, you discover God. You can know for certain that the God you pray to is the same God of the Bible. He never goes back on His word. He doesn’t change, and He has made a way for you to know Him through Jesus Christ. But, first you must listen to Him and value His words above everyone else’s.

Don’t go through life blindfolded, loaded with guilt, and uncertain: encounter the truth of God and be changed by Him!

Until next time,
Austin

What It Means To Be a Christian: A Response to Jessica Misener


What then is the Christian life? What does it mean to be a Christian? How do you live as a Christian? Well, it doesn’t mean to be a Baptist. It doesn’t mean to be a Lutheran or Catholic or Methodist or Presbyterian. Those labels do not make anybody a Christian. Being a Christian means getting up in the morning and saying in your heart: Jesus, you are my Savior, my King, my Friend, my Treasure, my Hope, my Joy, my Guide, my Protection, my Wisdom, my Advocate, my Strength. I need you, I love you, I trust you to be all that for me today. I know you have given me muscles and a mind and a will. I know you intend for me to use them all in doing things that are just and loving and God-honoring. But you have shown me that without you my will is rebellious, my mind is darkened and my muscles obey the rebel will and the darkened mind.

And so, Lord Jesus, I need you every day. Work for me today – not because I deserve it, but because you paid my ransom. Serve me today – to subdue my will, so that I love what you love and find joy in doing your will; to bring light to my mind, so that I think the truth and see you for who you are, infinitely valuable and beautiful. And so may my body magnify you whether in life or death. That’s what it means to be a Christian. – John Piper

Three days ago I read an article called, “Why I Miss Being a Born-Again Christian.” It was written by Jessica Misener, senior editor for Buzzfeed.com.

My first thought was that she wrote it to belittle Christians and make Christianity sound like it was invented by men. But, what stood out was this: her honesty. Her experiences were very similar to my own. If you’d like to hear some of my story, read the introduction.

In order to give an answer for the hope that I have (1 Peter 3:15), I needed to hear her out. I needed to listen carefully to her, so that I wouldn’t answer questions that were irrelevant to this issue. Instead of putting blame on her, I looked to see what she thought was Christianity.

Before we continue: you might be thinking I want to criticize Jessica and make myself sound good. I wrote this because although some people are condemning her and others are praying for her, I have yet to see someone respond back with the real gospel. That is why I wrote this: I want Jessica to know that she missed out on real Christianity.

Jessica thought she was a Christian, as many people do. The sinners prayer for her was a one-and-done approach to conversion. Instead of someone explaining to her what is conversion or repentance, it became about saying the right things to receive God’s grace. This is tied to a movement today known as the “seeker-sensitive” movement.

The millennial generation is facing the rise of the “seeker-sensitive” movement. I confess that this movement hasn’t gone well for the church as it’s developed. A recent survey conducted at a mega-church in my area discovered that although their congregation was large and filled with young people, the average member only attended every six weeks! One consequence of a “seeker-sensitive” service (making everything comfortable for the “seekers” or inquirers of Christianity) is that it eventually makes the church sound like a nice restaurant: if it doesn’t satisfy your palate, you go somewhere else. Read this article by Carl Trueman that sheds some light on the issue.

It seems like Jessica’s environment taught her a poor version of “Christianity”- this led to her thinking that she was a Christian by simply praying a prayer or doing good deeds (good according to whom?). She admits that the kind of Christianity she heard, was one version among many others. Instead of pointing her to a deep knowledge of Scripture, the church gave her an environment where she could fill the void she had in her life instead of transforming it by clearly communicating the dynamics of the gospel.

To be clear: There’s only one kind of Christianity- the kind the Bible teaches. Sound cliche? I hope so! All arguments eventually form a circle. Eventually, I’ll have to explain where I got all of this from. If you heard a different gospel than the Bible’s, then what you heard was not Christianity. But, first you need to assume that the Bible communicates its message with clarity. We will investigate this later.

It’s important to note that Jesus’ key mission was not to be the only way to heaven. He came to be the only way to God (I.e. John 14:6). When Jesus does talk about heaven, He never does so without also talking about God the Father being there (see John 14, 17; Matthew 26; John 19). As Paul Washer says, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, they just don’t want God to be there when they get there.”

Let’s begin.

Six things I’d like to point about her article

1) Jessica doesn’t know what it means to be “born again.” Even if she thinks it’s all fake and just positive thinking, she needs to know what it should mean to a Christian. What matters is if the belief is correct (otherwise, it’s futile, I.e. 1 Cor. 15).

She writes:

“Whatever “it” [this desire] was, it was powerful enough to bring a girl who grew up in a non-churchgoing family to a sweaty school gym for youth group every week, and binding enough to yoke me to a conservative faith for most of my formative years. From ages 17 until about age 23, I was a born-again Christian, something I’m usually embarrassed to admit here in New York City.”

Born-again in this case sounds like a certain sect of Christianity. It’s a genre of spirituality- you can be a Christian, or you can be a born again Christian.

I remember channel-surfing and coming across the show, “Millionaire Matchmaker.” One of the questions the matchmaker asked her client was, “are you a Christian?” The person said, “yes.” She then asked something like, “So, are you a born again Christian?” The conversation eventually led to her saying that born-again Christians usually don’t believe in sex before marriage. This is true (depends who you’re asking, as premarital sex seems to be becoming more “acceptable”), but definitely not what born-again means.

Here’s the thing: Born-again isn’t a type of Christianity, it refers to conversion. There’s only one way to be born again, and that is through hearing the gospel and believing it.

Consider the teaching of Jesus in John chapter three:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:1-4 ESV)

Put yourself in Nicodemus’ sandals:

He was a Pharisee, which means he knew the Old Testament pretty well. He was talking amongst his fellow Pharisee-homeboys [context implies there were only a few who shared his viewpoint], and concluded that yes, Jesus was a teacher sent from God. He saw the evidence. He knew the prophecies. He put all of the evidence together intellectually. He knew from an objective standpoint who Jesus was, but Jesus didn’t tell Nicodemus to pray a sinners prayer. What did He tell him?

“Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Imagine hearing this statement for the first time. The word “born” would bring to mind conception and child birth, “again” would raise your spidey-senses or a hint of, “he’s crazy.” Jesus is talking about something radical- a rebirth, so to speak. But He never told Nicodemus he needed to rebirth himself. He wasn’t responsible for his first birth, neither can he activate a second one.

Nicodemus clearly knew Jesus was talking about something life-changing, but missed the point. He took Jesus statement in an entirely different way. He thought that Jesus was talking about another physical birth, when in fact, Jesus was talking about an internal, spiritual one. According to Ezekiel 36:26, Jesus was talking about a spiritual heart transplant that came with the new covenant. A transplant that would result in a new life, where you desire new things, think differently about old ones, and live differently than the rest of your peers. This is a result of God at work in a sinners heart. That, my friends, is what it means to be born again. It means you’ll never be the same.

How do we deal with this practically? Here’s where context comes into play. The first few verses are talking about God’s work in salvation. The next few verses call for our response:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)

2) She doesn’t know which Christianity is the real one, and consequently the gospel.

To use the jargon of my former life, I became a “believer” in Christ shortly after my mom “got saved” — the term evangelicals use to mean a conversion to a very specific kind of Christianity, the Billy Graham and gay Teletubbies kind that preaches Jesus as the only path to salvation.

In her mind, there are many types of Christianity, ones that do not claim Jesus as the only way to heaven or homosexuality as a sin. If you want my take on whether homosexuality is wrong, check out my series Homosexuals Do Not Exist.

It is true that there are many denominations and forms of Christianity (Eastern Orthodox, Unitarian, Universalist, Messianic Jew, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, RCA), but not all of them are alike. There is only one true, historic Christianity, before denominations and church politics come into play.

Some will say that the Bible is open to interpretation and we should just pursue loving God and our neighbor like Jesus taught us. Funny, how can you be so sure of that, since it’s in the Bible after all? At this point, it would make sense to claim that Christianity is a movement invented by men for men, since there are so many opinions across the board. However, we must remember that early Christians claimed the same source (the Bible) and Jesus claimed it was written about Him (John 5). In order to discredit Christianity, you have to diminish or overthrow the Bible, that’s where all of these denominations splintered from. Jessica points to her Religious Studies at Yale as the nail in the coffin of her faith.

During my master’s degree program, my plan of going on to do a Ph.D. gradually dissolved — Exhibit A: me working full time at BuzzFeed, hi! — but something else materialized: a swelling doubt about the faith I’d set out to preserve, which hinged almost solely on believing the Bible to be the literal, inspired word of God. As I learned ancient Greek and Hebrew and pored over the biblical text in its original languages, and read it in larger quantities than I’d ever read it at church, its discrepancies began to shine a hot and uncomfortable spotlight on my personal religious views. Pieces of the gospels contradicted each other, I realized. Greek words, like the ones we’ve translated 2,000 years later to mean “homosexuality,” didn’t quite mean what modern evangelicals wanted them to mean. Early Christians disagreed up to the fifth century on which portions of texts should even be in the biblical canon.

More and more, I realized that the Bible was a flawed, messy, deeply human book — and that in treating it as an unimpeachable guidebook for life in the 21st century, many conservative Christians were basing their entire worldviews on a text that, in my opinion, wasn’t that much different from any other historical collection of letters and stories. I was forced to confront the fact that I’d converted into a pre-fab worldview: one hatched largely in recent American history from Jonathan Edwards and the theology of the Great Awakening, and one that “family values” politics has buoyed through modern decades.

This is why we need to go back to the sources and examine the evidence. If Jessica is right, then Christians should jump ship because their faith is useless. This is also why her saying that the early church didn’t know which books belonged in the Bible is such a crucial argument. I will explain this at a later time by examining the Council of Nicea.

The way she understood salvation was very pragmatic; it was all about what she could do. She thought that since she was a Christian, she should vote Republican, tell non-Christians to consider why they’re drinking, and “proselytize” by getting involved in different school activities. None of these are wrong, they’re just not always correctly executed. What is absent from her article, is any understanding of why Jesus died for her sins or any part of what Christianity is about. In fact, she bought into the lie of the God-shaped hole in her life.

Some days I wake up in my bedroom in Brooklyn and I just don’t know what to do, in an existential sense. Christianity gave me something to do. A large reason I converted to the faith as a teen was because I felt a weird void in my life, like something was missing that no relationship, amount of money, or enviable career could fill. The Christian message was packaged and sold to me as the only thing that could fill that void. And for six years, I let it.

In other words, “Christianity” filled a void but never satisfied it. She is not the only one to fall into the dangers of a God-shaped hole theology. The idea that every person has a God-shaped hole in their hearts and are aware of it is silly. There might be an awareness that you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to do, but ask almost any person and they’ll tell you they feel the same thing. God is not here to fulfill our desires, we are here to fulfill His, which is satisfying (Psalm 16).

What the Bible teaches, is that your heart is not right (sinful); it’s filled with error, not just empty of God. It worships creation and goes against what you were created to do (Rom. 1:20-31). Your conscience is also broken because of sin (Jer. 17, Rom. 1). You don’t need a filling for the decay in your heart, you need a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). You need to be changed into a new person from the inside out, and only God can do this (2 Cor. 5:17).

It’s about knowing the gospel, repenting of sin, and receiving the eternal love of God in Christ. It doesn’t matter how hard you believe; it it’s not real, it won’t change you, it’ll just be optimistic thinking. Faith only matters if the object of that faith gives what it promises.

3) Weak understanding of the sinful nature and Christian obedience.

But my secret is this: Even though I staked my life on an arbitrary historical document for six years, I liked who I was when I was born-again. I woke up each day determined to conquer my “sinful nature,” i.e., my id that was prone to thinking only about myself, and determined to put others first. I was more selfless. I was a more caring and giving friend back then; I listened deeply, instead of waiting for my turn to talk. I prayed for people and made care packages and wrote nice letters and volunteered. With a divine outlet compelling me to focus on something besides self-preservation, I felt free from the prison of ego.

Let’s break this down:

1) Her sinful nature thought only about herself, and being a Christian is about putting others first.

2) Being a Christian made her more caring and giving.

3) It made her a better listener.

4) She made care packages and wrote nice letters and volunteered.

5) It was a “divine-outlet” that compelled her to be free from the “prison of ego.”

As the saying goes, leggo my ego.

She says that being a “Christian” made her want to be better. That’s awesome! But, apart from Jesus we can’t be better, we’ll only fail every time. Apart from the gospel we are only being moralists. We need a deeper change than the external. Christianity is not a change from the outside in, but the inside out. Although she thought she wanted “Jesus,” she didn’t know Him.

My point is this: according to the Bible, Jessica was never a believer to begin with (1 John 2). She wanted Jesus but didn’t know Him; she prayed the prayed but didn’t know what it was about. No one took her by the hand and showed her what this really means. This may sound like a shunning kind of thing, but it’s not true. If Christianity is true it will have an eternal, lasting effect. It first begins by believing in Christ on the basis of the cross and resurrection and having some, if little, understanding of what they mean for your soul.

When it comes to her theology of obedience, the first issue happens when she says that her sinful nature needed to be, “conquered,” and she was the one to do it. That’s not how it works.

According to the Bible. Romans 8:13 says it’s by the Spirit we put to death “the deeds of the body.” This means that we seek to kill sin by the Holy Spirit, not our own strength. The Christian life is not about conquering a sinful nature, Jesus already did that. It’d about living in harmony with the new one you already have (2 Cor. 5:17, Eph. 4). Jesus destroyed the power of the Law (God’s standard we could never keep) and therefore the power of sin over us. Knowing what is wrong as sinners only makes us want to sin more. So, Jesus fulfilled the Law we couldn’t keep by obeying it perfectly- that, on the cross He gets treated like you should have (declared guilty), and you get treated like Jesus should (declared innocent). What happens is this: You don’t obey God’s law to earn His favor, but obey God’s Law because of it.

It’s about letting go of who you were, not becoming something that you’re not. You’re not in neutral when you become a Christian, the entire direction of your life changes. Even if she doesn’t believe this, it’s still sad to think she never understood this or was never shown that it’s a part of being a Christian.

Think I’m making this up? Consider the following verses:

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9, 10 ESV)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

The sinful nature is not in control anymore in the Christian’s life. It lost its power when Christ died and rose again. Sin influences a Christian, but the winning nature is the new one created by the Holy Spirit.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:6-8 ESV)

She tried to fight sin by suppressing her desires, when true Christianity is about fulfilling your deepest desires by worshiping Christ.

Later this week, we’ll conclude this series along with a personal message to Jessica.

Thanks for reading this lengthy article!

Austin Thompson

THE GOSPEL:

The gospel is this: Though you’ve sinned against an infinitely holy God (Isa. 6, Ezekiel 18), earning a sentence of eternity of Hell (Isa. 66)- though you are living in rebellion to Him (Rom. 1:18-3:27)- you, a rebel, can be made right with God (Eph. 1:6-7). You know that you’ve done wrong, but you need to know that God keeps a record of wrongs because He is just (Rom. 3). Though He is just, He is also loving (Jn. 3:16, 1 Jn. 4:1-10). So that these two desires would not be in conflict, God by His wisdom brought justice while demonstrating His love at the same time. He found someone else to be punished instead of you.

God sent the most precious thing to Him out of everything that exists: His only Son. He sent Him to live in your place and die in your place, if you trust Him to save you. He got the death sentence while you receive His reward: a right relationship with God and eternal life. When He rose from the dead, He guaranteed your release from being a slave to your sin and the death that follows. You can be free from sin and right with God. He is the answer to every need of the human heart. He is the only one who can save you from Himself. God desires to save you from His wrath for His love. Will you turn to Him today?

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A Response To Jessica Misener: Introduction


It was May, 2009, I was sixteen years old. The pulse in the room was electrifying. Hands were lifted as people sang along to their favorite songs- the ballads caused many to swerve back and forth to the music. Bright, multi-colored lights shined down in an angelic fashion. Like a giant mood ring, the energy changed with a flick of the switch. The guitars were piercing and smooth. The drums were energetic. The singers were jumping and engaging the audience.

But, this wasn’t a rock concert.

This was youth group.

Each week we would hear contemporary worship music, followed by “preaching” that appealed to “topics” youth were interested in (relationship problems, addictions, family issues, dating, sex, etc). There were video games and a snack bar for the teens to enjoy before service. The preaching usually consisted of a few short Bible verses, several jokes/situational humor, and an altar call for those to make a “decision” for Christ.

The two main reasons to go down were

1) To be saved via sinners prayer. Sometimes all of us would bow our heads, close our eyes, and repeat the sinners prayer TOGETHER so that the new converts wouldn’t feel “embarrassed.”

Or

2) “Rededication,” where you can admit if you’ve felt like a “bad” Christian and want to start over. Funny, I thought that was called, “repentance.” Secondly there are no “bad” and “good” Christians. More on that in the next post.

While I don’t doubt the sincerity or the faith of those involved with the church, I sadly have to admit that the methods applied in this youth group failed to make a lasting impact in myself or those around me. This could be all subjective, but, as you’ll see, I do think these methods to lure people to church caused this church to lose its faithfulness to Scripture in the process. One result being, an ill-equipped youth group.

When the speaker motioned to the piano player, you knew the altar call was coming. Over half the room would come down each week to be “saved” or “rededicated.” It was usually the same people (I knew a few of them). They were stuck in a cycle of not “living for God” and random moments where they “felt” Him, deciding to turn back again. It was no wonder why my two closest friends in high school later become atheists. The Christianity they were experiencing was more about excitement than knowing the Bible. Jesus was mentioned, but He seemed like the cheerleader rather than the coach. So, why bring this up now? All of these memories came flooding back when I came across this article on Buzzfeed, written by Jessica Misener.

Here’s a sample of the article:

“Some days I wake up in my bedroom in Brooklyn and I just don’t know what to do, in an existential sense. Christianity gave me something to do. A large reason I converted to the faith as a teen was because I felt a weird void in my life, like something was missing that no relationship, amount of money, or enviable career could fill. The Christian message was packaged and sold to me as the only thing that could fill that void. And for six years, I let it.”

This is similar to the kind of Christianity I saw during my time in the Bible-belt. Some people went after this “Christianity” thing because it sounded more exciting than sitting at home during the summer. That’s what our youth pastors told us to say: there’ll be pizza! Video games! You might even win some prizes? None of which are bad, but certainly shouldn’t be the message we preach to the lost, let alone use as a lure to get them into church. The guys would even tell their friends there would be girls there! Jesus would “show up” afterwards.

Youth group was a fun getaway spot. So many went after “God” to fill the void and keep their ship afloat. God was the additive to life’s longings, and never the longing itself. If He was the longing, it was probably because He was the last option. This felt-needs (coined by Rick Warren in the “Purpose Driven Church”), seeker-sensitive Christianity never satisfied my needs or my seeking. That’s the great irony about much of contemporized Christianity. Everything seems to be geared towards getting kids into church (local bodies), but not teaching them about the Church (body of Christ). The American Church, instead of answering today’s questions and providing Biblical answers to point to an eternal gospel, has imitated modernity instead of responding to it.

At this time, I sure wasn’t “feeling” anything or learning anything about the Bible at youth group. Comical sermons by charismatic speakers did nothing but entertain my 30 second intention span. The one-verse kind of Christianity never worked well for me. I would read Philippians 4:13, Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11, and John 3:16 but wanted to know what else the Bible was saying. Yet, these would fill the content of the sermons each week. You can only quote them so much before you want to know what else the Bible has to say. But, everyone else felt God! I was missing out, or was I? Ah, the power of emotions.

Here’s the tricky part: there was no way to tell the difference between “God” and a Red Bull. When you let go of your mind to try and experience “the divine,” you’re looking for any hint of a sensation or elevated high. Emotions are reactions, so they are often responses to your beliefs or instincts (or diet/physiology), but should not be your source of authority, especially when it comes to theology. The way you think will affect how you feel.

No one counseled me or became a mentor to me during this period. The ones who were, had gone off to college or to a different church. I was reading the Bible but never felt that other people wanted to talk about it, too. If I could quote a verse other than the ones mentioned above, some would say I was on “another level” which made it sound like I was a special kind of Christian. Weren’t Christians supposed to read their Bibles? There were other believers who were growing strong in their faith, don’t get me wrong. These people are great examples for me to this day. But, sadly they are the minority. What is this Christian thing all about?

The entire time this was happening, I was a Christian, but never felt satisfied in my hunger for the truth. I knew the truth on a basic level (believed in Jesus), but it never seemed like anyone could explain to me the dynamics of what I believed. It was either I did the research or took a whack at writing a blog trying to figure it out. I didn’t know how to read the Bible. Soon afterwards, I discovered teachers who did teach the Bible verse-by-verse, without trying to please people. They provided answers to questions I was hungering for, but they were still human and so not all of their insights were unanimous. What amazed me, excited me, and intrigued me most was how intricately woven together the Bible was! It still amazes me.

Unlike Jessica, I have never experienced an “existential” crisis. There has never been a time in my life where I can remember not believing in God or the Jesus of the Bible. Growing up, I was homeschooled. I was “sheltered” according to society. Perhaps I was, but all of us shelter ourselves from something. Did this “sheltering” blind me to the truth? As a friend recently told me, he is homeschooling his kids, not to shelter them, but because he believes he and his wife can provide a better education. So, before we define faith as subjective, we need to find the right object to which we subject our faith.

I didn’t start reading my Bible until I was twelve. This insatiable hunger I had was to know more about the God I knew I believed in. It was not forced on me; my parents never tried to make me pray the sinners prayer. They took me to church, asked me what I learned, and did the best they could. Any kind of claim to trusting in Jesus was solely my own, not piggy-backing on my parents, but certainly a progression of what they started. Neither of my parents grew up in a genuine Christian home, but was more nominal than anything else.

Now, at 21, the world seems a whole lot bigger and scarier. I’ve encountered my share of the rainbow of Christianity (different people from many backgrounds who call themselves believers), and of the “secular” society that preaches the gospel of uncertainty and all-inclusiveness. Has this rattled my faith and made me renounce Jesus? It’s rattled my faith, but only to point out if it was real to begin with…wait a second…what is faith? I’ll get to that. Let me just lay it out on the table: there are answers; blind faith is a misleading statement.

Faith is an invisible trust, but that doesn’t make the object of that faith invisible (like an imaginary friend). It’s certainly not irrational. As Francis Schaeffer writes in, “The God Who is There,” there is no such thing as a leap of faith. Reason is the first step, not the last. Faith is to trust, reason is to examine trustworthiness. Francis Turretin wrote that faith is above reason, but not contrary to it.

According to Jessica Mineser, she felt similarly when she started attending Yale. She wanted to learn more about Christianity, but felt like the magic trick had been exposed once she studied the Bible up close. The Greek and Hebrew languages opened her up to the Bible only to reveal “a deeply human book.” How right she is! The difference is that I encountered similar objections to the Bible, but went a different direction than she did.

In reading her article, I could relate on many different levels. The feelings of “worship”, the evangelistic school opportunities, the missions trips, all seem to scream, “this is what if means to be a Christian,” but that’s not what it means to be a Christian. They may be things Christians do, but they are not what defines them.

As I read her story, several things stood out. Perhaps it’s because we’ve read different books, or attend(ed) different schools. But, having read the Bible and studied it (with the resources available for a non-seminarian), I can say that she has missed the mark on understanding real Christianity. This led her down a road that had her conclude that she was a Christian, when what she really had was a false idea of one. No wonder this never satisfied her soul. I’d like to present the opposite case: why I am a born again Christian.

So, as you read the next post, I pray it will open your mind and heart to what being a Christian is all about.

Sincerely,
Austin Thompson

A Letter To Young Christians (Present Thoughts)


The most difficult part of the training of young men is not to put the right thing into them, but to get the wrong thing out of them. – Charles Spurgeon

There are many pitfalls with being a young Christian. I’m only 21 and have so much to learn about Jesus, loving people, and growing up. This subject of being a young Christian has been heavy on my heart. There are so many dangers I see my fellow believers allowing into their lives. I struggle in all the areas I’m about to share with you- many of these lessons I have learned the hard way. This is why I want to tell my fellow believers to take a look and see whether these things (as we’ll see from the Bible) are trouble spots in their lives as well. Let’s grow together. Here’s a letter to all of my fellow young Christians:

Young Christians, first of all, I’m thankful you exist. I’m in your same age group (21), and seeing you faithfully show up to church encourages me. I am glad to hear that you want to think differently than your parents, seeing their shortcomings and the need to mature. I love seeing you worship Jesus genuinely with your heart. You are the next generation of “old people” and Lord knows we need older folks who walk with Jesus. You are the disciple-makers and church-builders; without you there is no one to pass down the torch (thankfully, we know God is faithful in calling His people). Without you there is a generational gap that will put a stumbling block in the way of spreading the gospel. So, thank you for being here. That being said, I have a few other things to say as well, some of which may sting, but hopefully for good reasons.

1) It may not feel this way, but you don’t always know better than the “old people.” Yes, their ideas for church activities may seem archaic or “old,” and you may want the worship songs to be the same one’s you heard on the radio, but that doesn’t make you wiser. What it does make you, is more aware of current trends and the tastes of other people like yourself. You love Jesus and good music, too. Perhaps you are right and the church does need to spruce things up and cultivate newer/more familiar songs and technologies, but don’t mistake aesthetic insight for spiritual maturity. We need people like you to sharpen our Pastor’s (they’re responsible for you! They watch over you more than you think!) and consider what can be done away, and what the church can be flexible on. Please, learn to listen more frequently (James 1:17-22). Don’t just hear words, remember them, process them, take them to heart! Examine what you’re hearing on Sunday and realize it’s designed for you, from God’s word, by a Pastor who loves you. Trust the leadership. Submit to the Elders above you. Follow the words of Peter:

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5 ESV)

2) It’s not about being young, but being mature in Christ. No matter how many bands sing about youth and momentary experiences, youth will pass away. Just because it’s fading away doesn’t mean you should follow their advice and be careless. You can be passionate, but that doesn’t mean you should step all over people because you feel “in the Spirit.” Remember that the fruit of the Spirit includes patience (Gal. 5:20-22), so examine whether that’s the Spirit or your emotions talking.

The Bible says it’s good to carry the burden of work while you’re young, and that the glory of youth is to have much physical strength- but, godliness is better than physique (1 Tim. 4:8-9), and wisdom is better than ecstatic feelings. Often the “boring” decisions in life are the one’s the bear the most impact on our futures. Don’t get me wrong, feelings will come, but don’t chase after feelings, run after Jesus (Luke 15). You’ll feel because you are human, but make sure you don’t submit to your feelings, but to God. Focus on the things that please God (1 Thess. 4-5).

3) Your age gives you a special vantage point: use it, but don’t hold it over people. Older people love to point out how younger people think they know it all- don’t be so assertive that you lack teachability (1 Tim. 4:12). You can empathize with others much more easily because your experiences are so raw- you don’t have the scars that have hardened over time (decades). There are older folks who have become calloused or ignorant of their experiences when they were younger, and have let the world beat them down. This negatively impacts their ability to disciple young people. Be built up in Christ, structure your life on the rock who is Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27). Learn what Jesus did and study the Bible, it’s your only weapon against all the flaming arrows of Satan (Eph. 6). Your present experiences do matter; don’t live in the moment, live for eternity (Jn. 3).

4) You may be quick to divide your church into age categories, but for the sake of Christ, please don’t. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul: One body, many members, different functions, all placed by God for His purposes (1 Cor. 12, Rom. 12). Paul thought of the Church as God’s people, not an age-demographic of believers. When Paul did separate the church according to age, he divided them between the spiritual infants and the mature (1 Cor. 3); don’t be a spiritual baby, be an example- learn and obey (Heb. 6).

5) For God’s sake, have patience with others. However patient you want to be, think beyond that and show others grace (Col. 3). God’s aware of the sin of every person and hasn’t annihilated them yet (2 Pet. 3:9), but calls them to repent (Acts 2:38), so why are you so impatient with people whose sins you know little about? Consider your own, and how God is patiently changing you into the likeness of His Son.

Keep your lips sealed shut unless you know what you have to say comes from the right motives. You have so much energy with which you can serve others, but don’t waste it on complaining (1 Tim. 4).

6) Watch what you say and to whom you say it. Take to heart what Paul writes to Timothy (a young Pastor):

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. (1 Timothy 5:21 ESV)

Christian leaders: Appearances can deceive, people can be guarded- don’t mistake that for cold-heartedness and don’t turn your own expectations into Scriptural mandates. Likewise, don’t mistake friendliness for godliness. Be patient in forming opinions and always back up what you say with the Bible. Don’t show favoritism, but show others how they’re favored as Christians.

Fellow pew-sitters: It doesn’t take much to find something wrong with your church. The same could apply to your life as well, so don’t be quick to judge a book by its cover- use the real book (The Bible) to bring things into perspective. If you share a problem you have with the church to someone you hardly know from church, eventually it will come back to the Pastor and possibly break his heart. Telephone is a game that is played by adults, too.

There are many things wrong with us young people, what is right is that we trust Jesus with all our faults, and know that He is greater than our sin. Since Jesus conquered death, He can help us through anything in life. Remember the gospel, remember the Savior. Be wise, be an example, and don’t give up.

Until next time,
Austin

GOD’S SPIRITUAL DIET PLAN (Part One).


Psalm 119:103-105

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Have you ever heard the words, “milk” and “meat” used to describe different parts of God’s word? Though the Bible does use these words, their meaning is often distorted. Today, spiritual milk refers to the basics (I.e. The gospel, that you need to pray, read your Bible), and the meat refers to the more complex (actually reading your Bible and praying, end times, the gospels, etc). Here’s the problem: the Bible does not describe spiritual milk and meat the same way we do. We’re aiming lower when we should be looking up. The more I read Hebrews 5, the clearer this seems to be.

Firstly, I believe we have lowered our standards and have convinced ourselves that we need less of God’s word than we actually do.

It’s easy to understand why: the Bible is a big book. We’re told almost every day that we should read it (through our conscience, friends, or pastors). It’s intimidating because we know so little of it; we don’t feel capable to understand what it is saying, Maybe, that’s the issue. What if our lack of study has led to a lackluster desire for reading the Bible? It sounds counter-intuitive, but think about it: if you never tried chocolate once in your life, it’s unlikely you’d ever crave it. If you have never heard of the beach, then there’s no way you’d want to go swimming in an ocean you had never seen or touched. Our interaction with God is supposed to be satisfying, and meant to be relational, not artificial. The more you pursue God, the less you’ll want everything else- you’ll want Him most of all.

Worshiping God is the greatest thing a human can do: by admitting we can’t do anything good without our Creator. This interaction is through the Bible, not just in it- it’s the avenue where you meet God. It engages your mind and aligns (or focuses) it on God’s will. If our minds are not in sync with God’s heart, then how can we expect to desire God?

So, here’s what I’m saying: We need to think about the Bible in a much bigger and more beautiful way. I’m not saying we need to dramatize or exaggerate its importance, instead we need to remind ourselves that it is the most important book ever written. It’s a book with universal truths written by the most beautiful Person (God). There is nothing more beautiful than listening to God; it changes us. Martha was distracted with too much serving, while Mary sat at Jesus feet and listened to His teaching (Luke 11). There comes a point where actions mean little and words mean much. Faith comes by hearing God’s word (Rom. 10)- want to grow your faith? You need God’s spiritual diet.

Secondly, this is for all my friends involved in ministry. Friends, we need to be careful about dividing God’s word into, “milk” and “meat” without a point of reference. Too often we use our own judgement to determine what people need to hear, when we just need to explain God’s word clearly and not be afraid to deal with tough passages. In the end, it’s God who gives them understanding, not you (1 John 2). Even the Apostle Peter said that some things in the Bible are hard to understand- he never said don’t read them (2 Pet. 3), or that we couldn’t understand them- we have the Holy Spirit to help us. Peter is challenging us to grow.

Thirdly, if you read the passages where these words appear, milk means far more than believing the gospel, and meat means much more than just reading your Bible.
Remember these three words from Paul: “preach the word.” Let’s stop slicing and dicing, copying and pasting- let’s just learn (and teach) what it says. As Paul told Timothy, rightly divide the word of truth- teach the Bible correctly, not incompletely.

Today, I encourage you to start reading God’s word with the goal to know God. Don’t be intimidated by the book- read it as a book! It has history, poetry, prophecy, and wisdom- don’t try to spiritualize a passage. Ask God to open your eyes and to help you understand. Tomorrow, we’ll look at what spiritual “milk” and “meat” really are.

God Bless!

Austin

Why “Relevant” Christianity Is An Oxymoron


The older I get, the more I seem to hear about Christianity’s need for “relevance.” How Christians are to go about this is widely speculated. The consensus seems to be that we need to progress as a people and reach out to the world. Again, this avoids specifics- that’s where it gets sticky and very uncomfortable. How far should we go to be relevant?

Many Pastors face pressure from their congregations to be, “modern,” “contemporary,” or to “get with the times.” The reasoning is simple: if Christianity does not aim to engage the culture it’s in, then it will die off. Sometimes, the wrong sacrifices are made on the path to relevancy (i.e. No talking about sin, cursing in the pulpit, etc), others, strive to adapt but not change according to the culture around them (e.g. Use modern instruments, Pastor wears jeans, updated Bible translation, etc). Being relevant is more about style than stature- about embracing the good and throwing away the bad.

There’s discussion about whether to modernize the old hymns, or avoid them and write new songs- whether to have fancy stage productions, or stick with simple aesthetics. Pastors discuss whether expository (verse-by-verse) or topical preaching makes a bigger impact on people. Are people more suited to hearing talks instead of sermons- do people really need to hear about the wrath of God? After all, they feel guilty already? Most of the conversations turn into nonsense eventually. It’s all in the name of, “reaching” people, but how are we supposed to reach them?

With all the back and forth going on, the desire for Christianity to be relevant is nothing new; in fact, this desire is good in many ways. Francis Schaeffer is a prime example of someone who was both an intellectual and a Christian, who desired to use his intelligence to speak to the culture of his day about a variety of Biblical issues. I am not arguing against a Christian using his or her gifts in a way that can speak to people on their level. However, I suggest that the desire beneath this desire be examined: that we turn this whole idea of relevancy upside down. I want to challenge this idea of Christianity needing to be relevant, and ask whether Christianity is already relevant to begin with: the answer according to the Bible, is yes.

Relevant Christianity is an oxymoron because Christianity, like its Author, is timeless (Acts 4:14-15, John 17). Christianity does not need to be relevant, because it has always been relevant (Rom. 1:15-17, 1 Pet. 1:20-21) . Cultures have evolved, but the gospel has always stayed the same, it’s never lost its potency. Christians don’t need to try and be relevant, they already are- they were born in the same generations as everyone else (Eph. 2:1-10, John 3:1-17). They speak the same language(s) of the people around them (Acts 22:1-2). They live and breathe the same air, wear the same clothes, and eat the same food as unbelievers (Acts 14). They go to the same schools, drive the same streets, and have human parents (Rom. 5:12-22). Adapting is not the issue, being different (lights) in the world (darkness) is the issue (Matt. 5:13-16). The issue here is not whether you’re relevant, but whether your life is different- that you wear your faith publicly (Jude 1:1-4). The answer is not a relevant Christianity, but to be relevant by living as Christians. The Christian life is relevant, because it is God working out His grace in you right now (1 Cor. 15). Just be who you are in Christ, obeying God’s word, and that is enough to reach people (1 Pet. 3:13-17, 2 Tim. 1:8-10).

Now, I understand that this sounds too black and white. There are grey issues, but the issues that are grey are usually issues involving struggles with sin. In the end, it doesn’t matter how hard the Church tries to be relevant, God is eternal and He lives inside of you. Do you believe God can use you? Just be who you are, and trust in God to attract people. You’re relevant, so stop trying to be something you already are- remember you’re a Christian who has eternal life. Culture will change, but God’s word remains forever.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16, ESV)

Until next time,
Austin

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