has written one of my favorite books on the local church (Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion
) and recently he delivered what is now one of my favorite sermons on loving the local church (“The Church
The content of the sermon was excellent. And not only could I not take notes fast enough, I wanted all those in Sovereign Grace who were not in attendance at the Next conference
to benefit from it. Therefore we decided to take some excerpts from the message in hope that they will create an appetite to listen to the message.
Who should listen to the message?
- Church members
- Those who love their church
- Those whose love for the church has been diminishing
- Those who think of involvement with the local church as optional
- Those who have left the local church
There is stuff in this message for us all.
In this first excerpt Kevin addressed the inevitable reality of disappointment in the local church. At some point we will all be disappointed with the church. Rather than being surprised by this we should be prepared and we should be ready to respond in a God-glorifying way.
At one point in his message Kevin introduced the various problems we read about in the church in Corinth:
Here you have a church with evidences of grace, but you have the church with all manner of problems. They have divisions and controversies and sexual immorality and power struggles and money issues and authority issues and marriage issues and anything else you can think of. That is the church.
So we ought to be realistic and I know many of you have disappointments that run very deep—deeper than I have experienced—and many of them are legitimate and people have hurt you, maybe pastors have hurt you. I am sorry. …
This is no way to excuse our own sinfulness, but it is to give us a realistic appraisal that saints and sinners we will always be. We will be disappointed at times.
He goes on to explain the reason behind these disappointments:
I think one of the most important doctrines that is missing in younger generations today—and it is the reason that people can get so tired of the church so quickly—is the doctrine of original sin. The doctrine of original sin teaches that every single human being whoever was, is, or shall be—save for Jesus—inherited from Adam a sinful nature that makes us predisposed to wickedness and rebellion.
“No one is righteous” (Romans 3:10).
“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“The human heart is deceitful above all else and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).
The natural man is “dead in the trespasses and sin” (Ephesians 2:1).
By nature we pass our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3).
“All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6).
It is there over and over again in the pages of Scripture. And it is this doctrine with the related teachings of indwelling sin and the divided self that need to be recovered if we are to have a biblical, realistic appraisal of the local church.
So is your attitude and perspective of the local church informed by the doctrine of original sin? Is your appraisal of the local church realistic or idealistic? Please don’t misunderstand. There can be a time and place to transition from a particular local church. But prior to that decision we need to be informed by the content of Kevin’s message.
To download and listen to “The Church
”—or any of the conference messages—visit thisisnext.org
At the NEXT conference
in Baltimore this weekend, C.J. preached from Philippians 2:12-13. You can download the message—“Sanctification”—as an mp3 here
During his message C.J. shared the following quote from John Murray, a fitting summary of the passage and the message:
God’s working in us is not suspended because we work,
nor our working suspended because God works.
Neither is the relation strictly one of co-operation
as if God did his part and we did ours
so that the conjunction or coordination of both
produced the required result.
God works in us and we also work.
But the relation is that
because God works
All working out of salvation on our part
is the effect of God’s working in us,
not the willing to the exclusion of the doing
and not the doing to the exclusion of the willing,
but both the willing and the doing....
The more persistently active we are in working,
the more persuaded we may be
that all the energizing grace and power is of God.
[source: Redemption Accomplished and Applied
(Eerdmans, 1955), pp. 148-149. Line breaks added.]
December 21, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Hope | Sin
The days before Christmas can be a tiring season of preparation, planning, shopping, and wrapping. But I think as we prepare for the Christmas celebrations, dinners, travel, and gift giving, it’s equally important that we pause and prepare our souls for Christmas.
During this time of year, it may be easy to forget that the bigger purpose behind Bethlehem was Calvary. But the purpose of the manger was realized in the horrors of the cross. The purpose of his birth was his death.
Or to put it more personally: Christmas is necessary because I am a sinner. The incarnation reminds us of our desperate condition before a holy God.
Several years ago WORLD Magazine published a column by William H. Smith with the provocative title, “Christmas is disturbing: Any real understanding of the Christmas messages will disturb anyone” (Dec. 26, 1992).
In part, Smith wrote:
Many people who otherwise ignore God and the church have some religious feeling, or feel they ought to, at this time of the year. So they make their way to a church service or Christmas program. And when they go, they come away feeling vaguely warmed or at least better for having gone, but not disturbed.
Why aren’t people disturbed by Christmas? One reason is our tendency to sanitize the birth narratives. We romanticize the story of Mary and Joseph rather than deal with the painful dilemma they faced when the Lord chose Mary to be the virgin who would conceive her child by the power of the Holy Spirit. We beautify the birth scene, not coming to terms with the stench of the stable, the poverty of the parents, the hostility of Herod. Don’t miss my point. There is something truly comforting and warming about the Christmas story, but it comes from understanding the reality, not from denying it.
Most of us also have not come to terms with the baby in the manger. We sing, “Glory to the newborn King.” But do we truly recognize that the baby lying in the manger is appointed by God to be the King, to be either the Savior or Judge of all people? He is a most threatening person.
Malachi foresaw his coming and said, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” As long as we can keep him in the manger, and feel the sentimental feelings we have for babies, Jesus doesn’t disturb us. But once we understand that his coming means for every one of us either salvation or condemnation, he disturbs us deeply.
What should be just as disturbing is the awful work Christ had to do to accomplish the salvation of his people. Yet his very name, Jesus, testifies to us of that work.
That baby was born so that “he who had no sin” would become “sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The baby’s destiny from the moment of his conception was hell—hell in the place of sinners. When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize again that he was born to pay the unbearable penalty for my sins.
That’s the message of Christmas: God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, man’s sin has alienated him from God, and man’s reconciliation with God is possible only through faith in Christ…Christmas is disturbing.
Don’t get me wrong—Christmas should be a wonderful celebration. Properly understood, the message of Christmas confronts before it comforts, it disturbs before it delights.
The purpose of Christ’s birth was to live a sinless life, suffer as our substitute on the cross, satisfy the wrath of God, defeat death, and secure our forgiveness and salvation.
Christmas is about God the Father (the offended party) taking the initiative to send his only begotten son to offer his life as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, so that we might be forgiven for our many sins.
As Smith so fitly concludes his column:
Only those who have been profoundly disturbed to the point of deep repentance are able to receive the tidings of comfort, peace, and joy that Christmas proclaims.
Amen and Merry Christmas!
Many years ago I came across a quote from Martin Luther about personal criticism from unfriendly critics. Luther’s point was that no matter how bad the personal criticisms—no matter how accurate, or inaccurate, the accusations—there is more sin in each of our hearts than a critic could ever discover.
Luther’s humbling reminder has been useful when I have been criticized and accused of things that were simply not accurate (although to avoid any misunderstanding, there have been plenty of critics that were right in their observations, too).
Far too often, my initial impulse has been to dismiss the criticism and defend myself, not realizing that this response is simply an evidence of pride.
Luther’s words directly confront my temptation to a prideful response, because he reminds me that, even if the criticisms are inaccurate or exaggerated, there remain in my heart many other sins that go unnoticed by my critics. And had my critics been aware of these other sins, they surely would have put them to use in their cause!
Luther’s reminder of the depth of personal sin has served me on numerous occasions over the years. And recently Luther’s words have served my friend Carl Trueman, too.
Carl is the Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. And he has taught a course on John Owen in the Pastors College. Carl is a gifted, insightful, and witty writer (despite writing with just two fingers). I am a friend and a fan of Carl Trueman.
In his most recent online article, “Thank God for Bandit Country,” Carl explains how Luther’s words have served him in handling personal criticism. Listen as the words of Luther and the words of Trueman merge:
I have learned much (as elsewhere) from the master theologian, churchman, public figure, and normal Christian believer, Martin Luther. It is well-known that in his writings [and] in table conversation Luther would often refer to visits from the Devil, how the Devil would come to him and whisper in his ear, accusing him of all manner of filthy sin: “Martin, you are a liar, greedy, lecherous, a blasphemer, a hypocrite. You cannot stand before God.” To which Luther would respond: “Well, yes, I am. And, indeed, Satan, you do not know the half of it. I have done much worse than that and if you care to give me your full list, I can no doubt add to it and help make it more complete. But you know what? My Saviour has died for all my sins—those you mention, those I could add and, indeed, those I have committed but am so wicked that I am unaware of having done so. It does not change the fact that Christ has died for all of them; his blood is sufficient; and on the Day of Judgment I shall be exonerated because he has taken all my sins on himself and clothed me in his own perfect righteousness.”
Luther knew what temptation looked like; he knew his own wickedness; but he also knew the all-surpassing perfection and grace of Christ. So, in closing, I want to thank my blog critics, the crass, the colourful, the profane, and the plain old crazy, for helping me to understand better my sin and my Saviour. You think I'm arrogant? You should talk to my wife: she could fill you in on just how arrogant I really am. You think I'm ruthless and cold? Believe me, you don't know where half of the bodies are buried. You think I'm a weak and spineless girlyman? Hey, you don't know nearly the extent of my cowardice. You think I'm an inveterate street fighter? Bring it on. If someone will hold my coat, why go out onto the street? We can finish this right here and right now. But you know what? My Saviour knows the full depth of all my sleaziness, my sin, and my moral insanity, and has covered by his blood all these crimes you allege against me. Indeed, he has covered many more and much worse; and your reminders of my sinfulness and my need of him are most gratefully received.
Carl’s words, with Luther’s voice in the background, provide us with a humbling and helpful pattern to follow when encountering personal criticism. When we face criticism, the gospel provides us with an ever-present reminder of the depth of remaining sin in our hearts, the scale of our need for our Savior’s blood, and our unceasing need for God’s abundant grace each day.
Related post: "How to Help Your Husband When He's Criticized"
February 4, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Joy | Sin | Sports | Worldliness
By now most of you have seen the photograph of Olympic superstar swimmer Michael Phelps filling his giant lungs from a bong of marijuana. When the picture appeared in a British tabloid, Phelps acknowledged it was “youthful and inappropriate.”
Now there is no debate over whether the 23-year-old is gifted with athletic greatness. He is. And financially Phelps is set for life, his agent Peter Carlisle estimating his potential earnings will reach somewhere around $100 million.* Which I’m told would equal a stack of $100 bills 360 feet tall!
The photograph of Phelps reminds me of myself prior to conversion, a competitive swimmer (of slightly lesser skill), a sinner (of greater degree), held captive by sin, pursuing the fleeting pleasures of this world. And sadly, in my case, pursuing sin with passion.
So what was Phelps searching for in that bong pipe? What emptiness in his soul was he trying to satisfy?
Once again we are reminded that athletic gifting, championship trophies, gold medals, and million dollar endorsement deals cannot satisfy the soul.
Last year, in the wake of his third Super Bowl championship, disillusioned Patriots quarterback Tom Brady admitted on 60 Minutes,
Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what is.” I reached my goal, my dream, my life. I think, “God, it’s got to be more than this.” I mean this isn’t, this can’t be, what it’s all cracked up to be.
I commend Brady for his honesty.
And no doubt some Pittsburgh Steelers players are beginning to have similar thoughts.
But in Phelps’s case, if you listen to the media (with the exception of my man Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post) you hear a common chorus of excuses like “Give Phelps a break, nothing he did was anything worse than happens in an average weekend at a typical college campus.”
But we are not talking about a typical American college student. Phelps is a rich superstar.
This is what I find so striking: A man whose chest has been covered with gold medals, has achieved international fame, showered with awards, and blessed with an incomprehensible amount of money, still feels compelled to press his face to a bong.
It was Augustine who said that the soul is restless until it finds its rest in God. So true. Only God can satisfy the soul. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ provides forgiveness of sin, and therefore it is here in this gospel that we find rest for our restless souls.
Study the unflattering picture of Michael Phelps to be reminded of the deceitfulness of sin and the superficiality of fame and money. But also study the picture to be reminded of the message of Christ and him crucified for restless sinners like you, and me, and Michael Phelps.
* “Phelps Apologizes for Marijuana Pipe” By Karen Crouse, New York Times, February 1, 2009.
(The final selection from C.J.’s interview with pastor and author Dr. Sinclair Ferguson)
Let me move on to the fourth and final quote. This is my most recent favorite quote, because one of the great things about having access to your quotes is not only the difference they make in my private life, in my understanding of pastoral ministry and preaching, but also the difference they make in individual sermons. So if I really don’t have much else to say—and often I don’t—the “go to” quotes make all the difference.
So this particular quote is for pastors, although any and all readers will benefit from the content of this quote. You write,
Only by seeing our sin do we come to see the need for and wonder of grace. But exposing sin is not the same thing as unveiling and applying grace. We must be familiar with and exponents of its multifaceted power, and know how to apply it to a variety of spiritual conditions. Truth to tell, exposing sin is easier than applying grace; for, alas, we are more intimate with the former than we sometimes are with the latter. Therein lies our weakness.
This line is just filled with discernment for pastors and filled with discernment for everyone.
So without in any way minimizing the doctrine of sin—because you opened by saying it’s only by seeing our sin we come to see the need and the wonder of grace—how can we effectively expose sin and yet ultimately unveil and apply grace?
At least for myself it’s returning to a principle with me: Make sure you have gone back to basics. Make sure that you think back from first principles.
Part of the first principles of the gospel are these categories, sin
. I think the thing that I am trying to get at here is the correlation between my ability to grasp the grace, grace of grace
and my grasping the sin, sin of sin
(what Ralph Venning calls the “exceeding sinfulness of sin”). The sin is mine and therefore natural for me to see. It’s grace that isn’t natural to me and therefore difficult to see. Therefore I am going to struggle to bring the sin I am so familiar with to the grace I am unfamiliar with. And therefore I need to find ways given to me in Scripture of discovering the graciousness of God.
And I find a couple of paradoxes here. On the one hand, it’s almost easier for me to explore the vocabulary for sin in the Bible than the vocabulary for grace. And I notice this in the literature, too. As a preacher it is wonderful to be able to say to people, “Sin is a multi-headed monster. One of the richest areas of vocabulary in the Hebrew language is for sin. There is transgression
, there is iniquity
...” And in the addressing the substitutionary atonement of Christ, it would be right for me to speak about that.
But on the other hand I find that, because I am a sinner, I have got to work harder intellectually and mentally to see there is an even richer vocabulary for grace. Under the principle of Romans 5:20—“where sin abounds, grace super-abounds
”—has got to be a principle on which I will live my Christian life. I’m reminded of the hymn,
O Jesus! full of pardoning grace,—
More full of grace than I of sin.
And if somebody quibbles by saying surely the work of Christ is equivalent
grace to sin, I think, “No. Paul is saying there really is more
grace in Christ than sin in me.”
Here is an illustration. Because American houses are bigger, we have a washing machine and a tumble dryer in the house. Because houses tend to be smaller in the United Kingdom, many families have a washing machine and spin dryer all in one machine. It takes longer because the thing goes through the washing cycle and then it goes through the spin-drying cycle.
I often think, “That’s my life as a Christian. I am in the machinery of the exposure of my sin. Then I get thrown around to discover grace. But the thing about grace is that grace is Christ
, it’s not substance. It’s not washing powder that’s thrown in.
Christ. When I am in
Christ I am going to become more conscious of my other sins and the same sins at deeper levels. I realize what I thought was the sin was actually only the manifestation of the real sin.
I am constantly being turned in this sin/grace, sin/grace, sin/grace cycle all my days.
I still hold the, kind of the classical Augustinian view of Romans 7:14–25 that Paul is actually speaking about himself. I don’t think he is speaking wholesale about himself; I think he is speaking about himself from a particular perspective. But I think Paul understood this sin/grace cycle. And it’s not like now it’s grace, now it’s sin, but it’s both at the same time. It’s in this that you realize why looking at yourself in a certain light, this tension is expressed in a deep-seated contradiction of being—is bound to make you cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
But that is exactly the point where, as Christians, we need to learn that we are in Christ
, but we are not yet in heaven
. The dominion of sin has been broken, but the presence of sin has not been abolished.
And I think it is R.L. Dabney who says that surely there is no more extraordinary contradiction in the universe than that sin continues to dwell where Christ indwells. Or, sometimes I put it this way: Once you have got a lodger in your house he may be extremely difficult to dislocate from the house. And sin is like that. Sin used to be the owner of the house. Sin is now a lodger in the house, but lodgers can be very, very difficult to get out.
By God’s grace, the great thing has been done and sin’s dominion has been broken. But we are, in an ongoing way, discovering how sin is not a commodity that can be abstracted. It is in our bones. And it is battle all the way to the end.…
You have been exceedingly generous with your time, Dr. Ferguson. And actually, we must get you to lunch. But before we conclude: You have made different references to preachers and others who have had this profound effect on you. I want you to know you have had that same profound effect on me. And if anyone is perceptive when I am preaching, they will hear your influence in and through my preaching. And so one of the highlights for me has been just to sit here and not only learn from you, but now be able to say, “Thank you.”
Thank you for example, your teaching, your writing, your preaching. It has made, not a minor difference, and not even a significant difference. I would say it has made a profound
difference, and for that I am profoundly grateful to God.
Thank you, Sinclair.
Thank you, C.J.
The above quote from Dr. Ferguson was published on the Reformation21 blog here
Photo © 2008, Lukas VanDyke