Monthly Archives: October 2013

ABCs for Parents & Friends of Children


When it comes to children and Worship, we believe children should not only be seen, but theat they should be SEEN & HEARD!  We don’t believe Jesus would have it any other way!  (Matthew 19.14)

But we also know that, for the parents, it is not always easy.  So here are a handful of tips that have proven to help children acclimate to a public worship service:

Arrive in time to find a good place to sit.  Sit near the front to provide younger children with a better view of all that is going on during the service.

Bring colored pencils or crayons for children to use as they draw in the children’s worship activity bulletins.   In many churches, Ushers will be happy to give your child one of the children’s worship activity bulletins.

Clue your child about what will happen next in worship. Children who can read will want to find the hymns. They like to be ready.

In the home, Discuss worship to prepare children for any change in the routine, such as a baptism or other special features. Also, take time to answer questions about worship experiences.

Express your gladness at having children in worship. After the service, be sure to welcome the children near you. Include them in your conversations to let them know they belong.

Free yourself from worry about children’s behavior. Be open to receiving their ministry to you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Who Will Your Child Worship?

Who Will Your Child Worship?

It is imperative that we be clear on this issue. Teaching is not just providing good input. It is not just creating a constructive atmosphere and positive interaction between a child and yourself. There is another dimension. The child is interacting with the living God. He is either worshipping and serving and growing in understanding of the implications of who God is or he is seeking to make sense of life without a relationship with God.

If he is living as a fool who says in his heart there is no God, such a person doesn’t cease to be a worshipper, he simply worships what is not God.

Your task as a parent is to shepherd your children as creatures who worship and to point them to the One who is alone worthy of their worship. Your task as a Children’s Ministry Leader is to assist parents in shepherding their children. The question is not, will he worship. It is always, who or what will he worship.

Most child-rearing books are written to help you do the best possible job. All the tips and creative ideas are addressed toward producing the best, most biblically consistent shaping influences in the hope that the child will respond and turn out OK. What we want to do is not only set forth some ideas about biblical structures for life, we want to set forth some approaches to shepherding the child’s heart. We need to engage in hand to hand combat on the world’s smallest battlefield–the child’s heart. We need to engage our children as creatures made in the image of God. They can only be fulfilled and happy as they know and serve the living God.

The task we undertake is always concerned with both issues–creating biblical, consistent shaping influences and shepherding the heart. We want to provide the best possible shaping influences for our children. We want the structure of our homes and classrooms to furnish the stability and security they need. We want the quality of relationships in our classrooms to reflect the grace of God and the mercy of God for failing sinners. We want the discipline meted out to be appropriate and to show the severity of a holy God toward sin. We want to control the flow of activities so that it is never a chaotic, but rather a well-structured class. We want to provide a healthy, constructive atmosphere for our children.

When all is said and done, those things as important as they are, will never be the total story. Our children are not just a product of those shaping influences. They are interacting with all these things. They are interacting according to the nature of the covenantal choices they are making. Either they are responding to the goodness and mercy of God in faith or they are responding in unbelief. Either they are growing to love and trust the living God, or they are turning more fully to various forms of idolatry and self-reliance. The story is not just the nature of the shaping influences of their lives, but how they have responded to God in the context of those shaping influences.

Some Things to Think About

1. What do you think is the orientation of your children? Are their lives and responses organized around God as a Father, Shepherd, Lord or Sovereign King? Or do you see them living for some sort of pleasure, approval, acceptance or some other false god?

2. How can you correct your family’s focus?

3. How can you design winsome and attractive ways of challenging the idolatry you may see within your child?

4. How can you help your child see how he is investing himself in things which cannot satisfy?

Adapted from Shepherding the Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

10 Practical Preparations for Hearing the Word of God

by John Piper:

1. Pray that God would give you a good and honest heart.

The heart we need is a work of God. That’s why we pray for it. Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart.” Jeremiah 24:7, “I will give them a heart to know Me.” Let’s pray, “O Lord, give me a heart for you. Give me a good and honest heart. Give me a soft and receptive heart. Give me a humble and meek heart. Give me a fruitful heart.”

2. Meditate on the Word of God.

Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the LORD is good.” On Saturday night read some delicious portion of your Bible with a view to stirring up hunger for God. This is the appetizer for Sunday morning’s meal.

3. Purify your mind by turning away from worldly entertainment.

James 1:21, “Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch. This makes us small and weak and worldly and inauthentic in worship. Instead, turn off the television on Saturday night and read something true and great and beautiful and pure and honorable and excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Your heart will unshrivel and be able to feel greatness again.

4. Trust in the truth that you already have.

The hearing of the word of God that fails during trial has no root (Luke 8:13). What is the root we need? It is trust. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream.” Trusting in the truth you already have is the best way to prepare yourself to receive more.

5. Rest long enough Saturday night to be alert and hopeful Sunday morning.

1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” I am not laying down any law here. I am saying there are Saturday night ways that ruin Sunday morning worship. Don’t be enslaved by them. Without sufficient sleep, our minds are dull, our emotions are flat, our proneness to depression is higher, and our fuses are short. My counsel decide when you must get up on Sunday in order to have time to eat, get dressed, pray and meditate on the Word, prepare the family, and travel to church; and then compute backward eight hours and be sure that you are in bed 15 minutes before that. Read your Bible in bed and fall asleep with the Word of God in your mind. I especially exhort parents to teach teenagers that Saturday is NOT the night to stay out late with friends. If there is a special late night, make it Friday. It is a terrible thing to teach children that worship is so optional that it doesn’t matter if you are exhausted when you come.

6. Forbear one another Sunday morning without grumbling and criticism.

Psalm 106:25, “They grumbled in their tents; they did not listen to the voice of the LORD.” Sunday morning grumbling and controversy and quarreling can ruin a worship service for a family. When there is something you are angry about or some conflict that you genuinely think needs to be talked about, forbear. Of course if you are clearly the problem and need to apologize, do it as quickly as you can (Matthew 5:23-24). But if you are fuming because of children or spouse delinquency, forbear, that is, be slow to anger and quick to listen (James 1:19). In worship open yourself to God’s exposing the log in your own eye. It may be that all of you will be humbled and chastened so that no conflict is necessary.

7. Be meek and teachable when you come.

James 1:21 “In meekness receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” Meekness and teachability are not gullibility. You have your Bible and you have your brain. Use them. But if we come with a chip on our shoulder and a suspicion of the preaching week after week, we will not hear the Word of God. Meekness is a humble openness to God’s truth with a longing to be changed by it.

8. Be still as you enter the room and focus your mind’s attention and heart’s affection on God.

Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” As we enter the sanctuary, let us “come on the lookout for God and leave on the lookout for people.” Come with a quiet passion to seek God and his power. We will not be an unfriendly church if we are aggressive in our pursuit of God during the prelude and aggressive in our pursuit of visitors during the postlude.

9. Think earnestly about what is sung and prayed and preached.

1 Corinthians 14:20, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature”. So Paul says to Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). Anything worth hearing is worth thinking about. If you would take heed how you hear, think about what you hear.

10. Desire the Truth of God’s Word more than you desire riches or food.

1 Peter 2:2 “Like newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” As you sit quietly and pray and meditate on the text and the songs, remind yourself of what Psalm 19:10 says about the Words of God “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.


By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website:; Original post: Take Heed How You Hear

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Do We Come for Worship?


The answer to the question, “Why do we come for worship?” determines everything about the service.  It can only be answered one of two ways:

  • We are in worship for God, or
  • We are there for man.

If we come to worship for man, we become principally concerned with such questions as, “Are we having a good time?”  “Is this service giving us a good feeling?”  “Are we getting good fellowship?”  “Do we like the preacher?”  “Are we moved by the sermons?”   These questions have one common denominator.  They reflect man-centered purposes for worship, because they all have to do with man.

Don’t misunderstand.  Many of these questions touch legitimate concerns.  But they are not sound Biblical purposes for worship; for the coming together mentioned in the Scriptures.

The Bible clearly teaches that the purpose of worship is for God.  The Apostle Paul chided a group of Christians for putting their own selfish desires before God’s glory, for “coming together” for man-centered reasons.  The Corinthian church cared only about stuffing their own mouths, having a good time, and celebrating together.  They had lost sight of the real purpose, which was to “show forth the Lord’s death” (1 Corinthians 11.20-26).

They were not to be there  primarily for themselves, but for the Lord.  How they felt and what they liked were not the primary reasons for coming to worship.

As a matter of fact, it is possible Christians may not feel good when they come together.  In the same passage the Apostle Paul says Biblical worship may make some people sick if they come for the wrong reason. (1 Corinthians 11.30)  How we feel or even what we think about Biblical worship is not the point.  We are not the point at all.  God is.  We come to worship Him!

Once we’ve settled why we come for worship, the rest falls into its Biblical place.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Do We Read Prayers, Creeds & Confessions?

Worship the Lamb

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  (1 Peter 2.9)

The whole Church is called a royal priesthood.  Since the people of God are all priests, all should be actively involved in the priestly function – worship.  We should all be conducting  worship.

In worship services the worship leaders & musicians lead, but the people are actually performing the worship.  The people are able to do this because they know how to worship.  They have been given the tools to read & respond.  These tools do not replace the Bible.  On the contrary, many if not most tools are excerpts from the Bible. These liturgical tools should be seen as to the spoken parts of worship what the hymnal is to music.  They are intended to equip the people, and assist them, for doing the work of the priesthood.

The recited corporate prayers are part of the training manual for worship.  They are not the only kind of prayer. There is also “free” prayer during worship.  The set prayers though, such as The Lord’s Prayer, follow Biblical examples and patterns.  They are usually well-stated prayers that uniquely express the common needs of God’s people.  They are sometimes called collects because they are a collection of prayers that express the needs of Christians, and they are brought to God by those who pray “collectively” – or all together.

The common objection to such “read prayers” is that they are not sincere.  “After all, how could they be,” it is reasoned, “if they are composed by someone else”.  But such an objection, while understandable, is not necessarily the case.  People read vows or or memorize what they will say at a wedding.  Does this mean that they are insincere?  Hardly!  In fact, people very carefully choose their words when they really have to mean them.  Remember this is how people act at special occasions before special people.  Further, most people have no reservations about singing hymns or songs written by others.  It is understood and accepted that this allows a gathered congregation to praise God in unison through song.  Can you imagine the chaos if, when it was time to sing praises to God, everyone was expected to sing at the same time, but each was to sing a song of their own choosing?  Obviously this would cause a horrible sound.  The hymnal (or projection screen) allows all worshipers to participate, and it unifies all participants as they worship together.  So it is with the liturgical tools.

But how about repetition?  Doesn’t repetition lead to deadness?  No, again.  People usually like to repeat what they love.  Certain oft-recited portions of scripture, such as The Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23, and The Beatitudes, all serve to illustrate this.  And how about favorite hymns, Christmas carols, or simple songs such as Jesus Loves Me?  These same songs are repeated by the same people over and over.  Does the repetition mean they are insincere or don’t mean what they say?  Not at all!  They are repeating what they love and mean.  In fact, repetition is difficult when people don’t mean what they are saying.  This is true of every aspect of worship.

Finally, repetition has also been called the “mother of learning”.  Repetition is a way of learning the basic elements of anything – including worship.

It has been suggested that “Most Christians today do not know how to really worship”.  If this is so, perhaps it is because many have been led to believe that worship only comes naturally.  It doesn’t. No more than anything else in the Christian life comes naturally.  While genuine worship must come from the heart, certain aspects of worship must be learned.  And, since repetition is one of the most basic ways of learning, sometimes our worship services will involve repeating certain important parts.  And because congregational worship is not just an individual sport, our services offer certain tools that allow all God’s gathered people to join together.  Our aim is for our services to provide a beautiful combination of corporate and individual expressions, in order that we may all offer to our glorious God a worship that emits a fragrant aroma pleasing to Him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Grace Covenant: A Gospel-Driven Church


Our Purpose

One of the most important questions you can ask about a church or ministry is:

  • What kind of church do we want?
  • What kind of church are we seeking to cultivate, grow, and be?

The purpose of this post is to challenge you to think clearly about what kind of church we are aiming for, by presenting how we at Grace Covenant Church are thinking about this.

Our Approach

The approach has been greatly influenced by John Frame’s tri-perspectivalism. John writes:

“The knowledge of God’s law, the world, and the self are interdependent and ultimately identical” (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987, p.89).

“Human knowledge can be understood in three ways: as knowledge of God’s norm, as knowledge of the situation [environment], and as knowledge of ourselves. None can be achieved adequately without the others.  Each includes the others” (p.75).

Our Application

In thinking about Grace Covenant Church from a tri-perspectival approach, we must think about what makes Grace Covenant distinctive in its relationship to God’s Word, the world, and ourselves.

  • In relation to God’s Word, Grace Covenant is a Gospel-centered church.
  • In relationship to the world, Grace Covenant is a missional church.
  • And in relationship to ourselves, Grace Covenant is a grace renewalchurch.

Let’s look of each of these.


Conviction: The whole Bible is the Gospel of Christ!

Luke 24.25-27 – He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24.44-47 – He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

1 Corinthians 1.22-24; 2.2 – Jews demand miraculous signs [power] and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God… For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.


1. We resolve to read the Bible as the Gospel.

Since the central theme of the Bible is the sufferings and glory of Christ, we resolve to read the Bible as the story of salvation, not moralistic lessons. We resolve to see how the law, the ceremonies, and the history all point us to their fulfillment in the coming of the Deliverer promised in Genesis 3:15 and throughout the Bible.

2. We resolve to preach and teach the Gospel to believers, not just unbelievers.

We become Christians and we grow as Christians by grace through faith in Jesus.  Therefore, we resolve to preach the Gospel as the means to grow, not ‘biblical principles for living’ (which means ‘the law’) to believers.

3. We resolve to preach and teach the Gospel in every sermon and every lesson.

The most desperate need of both unbelievers and believers is to hear and appropriate the Gospel to their lives each and every day.  Therefore, we resolve to point people to the Gospel in every sermon, lesson, small group meeting, etc.

4. We resolve to receive the Gospel as the “milk” and the “meat” of God’s Word

Since the whole Bible is the Gospel and Christ crucified is the wisdom and power of God (1Cor.1:22-24), then we never move beyond the Gospel to something deeper.  There is nothing deeper than the Gospel.  Therefore, we resolve to view the Gospel as both the A-B-C’s and the A-to-Z of Christianity.

 5. We resolve to view the world and the church through the lens of the Gospel.

Since the Bible is our ultimate authority and the Bible is the Gospel, we resolve to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).  This means our understanding of the world and church and how to address its needs and problems will be based on the Gospel.


Conviction: The Gospel calls us to be “for” the city/culture/people!

John 17.18-19 – [Father] as you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Matthew 28.18-20 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Acts 1.8 – You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 8.1,4 – On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria… Those who were scattered preached the word wherever they went.

What does it mean to be missional?

Bottom-line it means:  We are a church “for” the city/culture/people where God has placed us: Williamsburg and the Hampton Roads Peninsula — and through it the world.

  • Some churches are “of” the culture.  They so embrace the culture that they lose their distinctiveness.
  • Some churches are “against” the culture.  They so oppose the culture that they lose their relevance.
  • And some churches are “above” the culture.  They so “super-spiritualize” life that they lose their point of contact.

On the other hand, a church “for” the culture engages the culture in order to transform it.


 (The following commitments are based on Tim Keller’s paper entitled The Missional Church– June 2001.)

1. We resolve to learn and speak the language of our culture.

  • We resolve to avoid speaking ‘Christianese’, ‘holy-huddle’ talk, pious prayer language, in-house ‘jargon’, and ‘super-spiritual’ talk.
  • We resolve to avoid technical theological terms, unless we explain them.
  • We resolve to avoid ‘we-them’ language, language that belittles people of different political, spiritual, social positions, or is disrespectful of people with whom we disagree.
  • We resolve, instead to engage people by humbly admitting our weaknesses and failures, while demonstrating the joyful difference the Gospel makes.
  • We resolve never to talk as if non-Christians weren’t present.
  • We resolve to do this not as an outreach strategy but as the fruit of a Gospel-changed heart.

2. We resolve to sincerely listen to people and their ‘stories’. 

  • We resolve to understand, love and respect them unconditionally, and serve them by showing them how the Gospel meets their deepest longings.
  • To do this we resolve to have a knowledge and appreciation of the culture’s movies, books, music, etc., in order to understand the culture’s hopes, dreams, stories, and fears.  So, we can show people that only Jesus can fulfill their greatest desires.

3. We resolve to be a Christian community that is counter-cultural/intuitive.

  • We resolve to show the world how radically different a Christian society is with regard to relationships, sex, money, and power.
    • Regarding relationships: We resolve to celebrate diversity and cultivate unity — to radically love each other—so that the world will see the difference Jesus makes.  We resolve when there is conflict we will not just walk away but we  will actively work at reconciliation with one another.
    • Regarding sex: We resolve to avoid the extremes of idolizing sex and fearing sex. Instead we will hold a glorious view of sex in marriage as a pointer to intimacy with Christ.  We also resolve in regards to people whose sexual lifestyles are different than ours, that we will show love rather than hostility or fear.
    • Regarding money: We resolve to be radically generous in our giving of time, money, skills, and relationships to working for social justice and caring for the poor, weak and needy.
    • Regarding power: We resolve to share power and build friendships between different races and classes.
  • We resolve to be more involved in deeds of mercy and social justice than traditional liberal churches and at the same time more involved in evangelism and church planting and church renewal than traditional  conservative churches.

4. We resolve to live out our Christianity in our work and recreation.

  • We resolve to learn together how to think, do, and be distinctively Christian in our work and recreation.
  • We resolve to learn:
    • what in our culture is good and can be enjoyed and celebrated,
    • what in our culture is anti-Gospel and must be rejected, and
    • what in our culture can be renewed and adapted for good.
  • We resolve to encourage and celebrate Christians who are advancing the “kingdom of God” in the public square.
  • We resolve to show Gospel love and tolerance toward those with whom we strongly disagree with.  One of the biggest criticisms of Christians is that we are intolerant.  But since we are saved by grace, we should be the most humble, tolerant people in society.  And so we resolve to be.

5. We resolve to demonstrate the unity of the church in the city.

  • We resolve to celebrate what God is doing in other churches, instead of criticizing other churches.
  • We resolve to develop alliances with other like-minded churches in order to serve Williamsburg together.
  • We resolve, beyond that, to cooperate and develop meaningful relationships even with congregations much different than us.  Although this will raise some areas of tension, we will continue to head in the direction of  cooperation.

Case Study (Tim Keller)

Let me show you how this goes beyond any ‘program’.

These are elements that have to be present in every area of the church.

So, for example, what makes a small group ‘missional’? A ‘missional’ small group is not necessarily one which is doing some kind of specific evangelism program (though that is to be recommended).


  1. if its members love and talk positively about the city/neighborhood,
  2. if they speak in language that is not filled with pious tribal or technical terms and phrases, nor disdainful and embattled language,
  3. if in their Bible study they apply the Gospel to the core concerns and stories of the people of the culture,
  4. if they are obviously interested in and engaged with the literature and art and thought of the surrounding culture and can discuss it both appreciatively and yet critically,
  5. if they exhibit deep concern for the poor and generosity with their money and purity and respect with regard to opposite sex, and show humility toward people of other races and cultures,
  6. if they do not bash other Christians and churches – then seekers and non-believing people from the city
  • a) will be invited, and
  • b) will come and will stay as they explore spiritual issues.

If these marks are not there it will only be able to include believers or traditional, “Christianized” people.”


Conviction: We live and grow by grace through faith in the Gospel of Christ. 

Galatians 3

1You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? 5Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

Galatians 5

1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Romans 1

16I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.17For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Colossians 2

6So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,7rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.  8See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.


1. We resolve to live in on-going grace renewal.

To that end, we resolve to preach the Gospel to our selves, love our neighbors, and pray it forward through kingdom centered prayer—all done in a community of grace.

2. We resolve to be “new” people, not “nice” people.

The Gospel is out not to reform people but to transform people. Churches that preach for behavioral reformation tend to elevate middle-class values to the level of biblical norm and focus on external change.  We resolve to seek transformation at the motivational and character level, not merely behavioral modification.

3. We resolve to believe that the Gospel can change anyone.

Since we are saved by grace, there are no hopeless cases and no hopeless situations.  Since we are saved by grace, we resolve to have great respect and great hope for every unbeliever.

4. We resolve to motivate with grace, not guilt.

The Gospel is the power of God to motivate us.  Those gripped by the Gospel are compelled by the love of Christ (2Cor.5:14) to serve, give, and witness.  Therefore, we resolve not to motivate people through guilt trips driving them to obey out of fear.  But rather we resolve to motivate people through the Gospel that sets us free to love unconditionally out of gratitude for God’s grace.

5. We resolve to solve all problems (personal, church, social) with the Gospel.

The root of all of our problems is that something other than Christ is serving as our functional savior.  Therefore we neither tell people: “You shouldn’t act like that – stop it!” nor “You need to accept yourself as you are!”  Rather, we call them to repent of their idols and trust in Christ who through his life and death is the only one who can give them all they are longing for.


This paper has been adapted from the work of Richard P. Kaufmann, Harbor Presbyterian Church & Harbor Network in San Diego, CA. 

For group discussion, upload the document: GCPC: A Gospel-Driven-Church

For Further Thought & Discussion:

  1. What did you find especially helpful or challenging?
  2. What raised questions for you?
  3. What do you want to apply in church renewal and future planting?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Gospel-centered Church

On Target

At Grace Covenant we talk a lot about being gospel-centered as a church, and we encourage gospel-centered living among our people. From time to time we get asked by our newcomers, “What exactly does that mean? What does it look like?” Here is a brief explanation.

The Gospel

Before we jump into gospel-centeredness we need to be clear about the gospel itself. In the simplest of terms the gospel is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that accomplishes redemption and restoration for all who believe and all of creation. In his life Jesus fulfilled the law and accomplished all righteousness on behalf of sinners who have broken God’s law at every point. In his death Jesus atones for our sins, satisfying the wrath of God and obtaining forgiveness for all who believe. In his resurrection Jesus’ victory over sin and death is the guarantee of our victory over the same in and through him. Jesus’ saving work not only redeems sinners, uniting them to God, but also assures the future restoration of all creation. This is the gospel, the “good news,” that God redeems a fallen world by his grace.

Gospel-Centered: The Big Picture

Therefore, to be gospel-centered means that that the gospel – and Jesus himself – is our greatest hope and boast, our deepest longing and joy, and our most passionate song and message. It means that the gospel is what defines us as Christians, unites us as brothers and sisters, changes us as sinner/saints and sends us as God’s people on mission. When we are gospel-centered the gospel is exalted above every other good thing in our lives and triumphs over every bad thing set against it.

The Gospel-Centered Life

More specifically, the gospel-centered life is a life where a Christian experiences a growing personal reliance on the gospel that protects him from depending on his own religious performance and being seduced and overwhelmed by idols. The gospel centered life produces:

Confidence (Heb. 3:14; 4:16) When the gospel is central in our lives, we have confidence before God – not because of our achievements, but because of Christ’s atonement. We can approach God knowing that he receives us as his children. We do not allow our sins to anchor us to guilt and despair, but their very presence in our lives compels us to flee again and again to Christ for grace that restores our spirits and gives us strength.

Intimacy (Heb. 7:25; 10:22; James 4:8) When the gospel is central in our lives, we have and maintain intimacy with God, not because of our religious performance, but because of Jesus’ priestly ministry. We know that Jesus is our mediator with God the Father and that he has made perfect peace for us through his sacrifice allowing us to draw near to God with the eager expectation of receiving grace, not judgment.

Transformation (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13) When the gospel is central in our lives, we experience spiritual transformation, not just moral improvement, and this change does not come about by our willpower, but by the power of the resurrection. Our hope for becoming what God designed and desires for us is not trying harder, but trusting more – relying on his truth and Spirit to sanctify us.

Community (Heb. 3:12, 13; 10:25; 2 Tim 3:16, 17) When the gospel is central in our lives, we long for and discover unity with other believers in the local church, not because of any cultural commonality, but because of our common faith and Savior. It is within this covenant community, if the community itself is gospel-centered, that we experience the kind of fellowship that comforts the afflicted, corrects the wayward, strengthens the weak, and encourages the disheartened (- which is all of us at one time or another, and to varying degrees).

The Gospel-Centered Church

A gospel-centered church is a church that is about Jesus above everything else. That sounds a little obvious, but when we talk about striving to be and maintain gospel-centrality as a church we are recognizing our tendency to focus on many other things (often good and important things) instead of Jesus. There are really only two options for local churches: they will be gospel-centered, or they will be issue(s) driven.

Issue-driven churches can be conservative or liberal, and come from any denominational tribe. A church can get the gospel “right” on paper and still not be gospel-centered in practice.

Some churches are driven by doctrinal purity. In the pursuit of the truth it is not uncommon for a church to be more about their theological heritage than the founder and perfecter of our faith. Some churches are driven by numbers. The desire to see as many people as possible trust in Christ can lead to a pragmatism that gives the nod to anything that results in more people in the front door. Some churches are driven by a desire to be culturally relevant, while other churches are focused on how culturally distinct they can remain. In both cases something other than the cross is capturing the attention of the congregation. Some churches are driven by social or spiritual works that, while good, begin to eclipse the point of all good works.

Gospel-centered churches do not forsake these things, but they are not driven by them. They are driven by a love for Jesus and his work on our behalf. Therefore gospel-centered churches are so focused on Jesus and the hope of redemption that they are passionate and articulate about their theology. Their desire to know and make known Jesus demands doctrinal precision and leads them to want and work toward as many people as possible repenting of sin and trusting in Christ. When the gospel is central in a church it leads them out into the world on mission, while preserving their counter-cultural character as the people of God. The gospel-centered church is driven by love (for God and others) and this leads to joyful obedience that points back to God.

In saying this we don’t want to suggest that here at Grace Covenant we do not struggle with being issue driven. That temptation is always present, and it is why we work hard to maintain gospel-centrality by keeping the gospel always before us in our work and worship.

Helpful reading on maintaining gospel-centrality:


Adapted from the work of Joe Thorn, Redeemer Fellowship, St. Charles, Ill, and used with his permission

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Can I Know God?

Knowing God

What Does It Mean To Know God?

The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such thing as sex. If l find myself a desire, which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it that does not mean that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing” (C.S. Lewis).

What is Christianity? Some say it is a philosophy, others that it is an ethical stance, while others claim it is really an experience. None of these really gets at the heart of the matter, however. Each of those things is something a Christian has, but not one of them serves as a definition of what a Christian is. Christianity is at its core a transaction between a person and God. A person who becomes a Christian moves from knowing about God distantly to knowing Him directly and intimately. “Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Christianity is knowing God.

Why Do I Need To Know God?

Our desire for personal knowledge of God is strong, but we usually fail to recognize the desire for what it is. When we fall in love, when we first marry, when we finally break into our chosen field, when we at last get that weekend house – these breakthroughs arouse in us an anticipation of something which, as it turns out, never occurs. We eventually discover that our desire for that precious something is a longing that no lover or career or achievement, even the best possible ones, can ever satisfy. The satisfaction fades away even as we close our fingers around our goal. Nothing ever delivers the joy it seemed to promise. Many of us avoid the yawning emptiness through busyness or denial, but, at best, there is only a postponement. “Nothing tastes,” said Marie Antoinette. There are several ways people respond to this:

  • To blame the things themselves – to find fault with everyone and everything around them. Some people believe that a better spouse, a better career, a better boss or salary would finally yield the elusive joy. Many of the world’s most successful people are like this: bored, discontented, running from new thing to new thing, often changing counselors, mates, partners, and settings.
  • To blame themselves – to try harder to live up to self-imposed standards. Many people feel they have made poor choices or failed to measure up to challenges and to achieve the things that would give them joy and satisfaction. Such people are wracked with self-doubts and tend to burn themselves out. They think, “If only I could reach my goals, then this emptiness would be gone.” But, it is not so.
  • To blame the universe itself – to give up seeking fulfillment at all. These are the people who say, “Yes, when young you are idealistic, but at my age I have stopped howling after the moon.” They become cynical and decide to repress that part of themselves that once wanted to have fulfillment and joy. But they become hard, and they can feel themselves losing their humanity, compassion, and joy.
  • To blame and recognize their separation from God – to establish a personal relationship with Him.

How Can I Know God?

In order to form a personal relationship with God; we must know three things:

I. Who We Are

We are God’s creation. God created us and built us for a relationship with Him. We belong to Him and owe Him gratitude for every breath, every moment, everything. Since humans were built to live for Him (to worship), we will always try to worship something. If not God, we will choose some other object of ultimate devotion to give life meaning.

We are sinners. We have all chosen (and reaffirm daily) to reject God and to make our own joy and happiness our highest priority. We do not want to worship God and surrender our self-mastery, yet we are built to worship; so we cling to idols, centering our lives on things which promise to give us meaning: success, relationships, influence, love, comfort, etc.

We are in spiritual bondage. To live for anything else but God leads to breakdown and decay. When a fish leaves the water, that which he was built for, he is not free, but dead. Worshiping other things besides God lead to a loss of meaning. If we achieve these things, they cannot deliver satisfaction, because they were never meant to be “gods.” They were never meant to replace God. Worshiping other things besides God also lead to self-image problems. We end up defining ourselves in terms of our achievement in these things. We must have them or all is lost, so they drive us to work too hard or fill us with terror if they are jeopardized.

II. Who God Is

God is love and justice. His active concern is for our joy and well being. Most people love those who love them, yet God loves and seeks the good even of people who are His enemies. But because God is good and loving, He cannot tolerate evil. The opposite of love is not anger but indifference.

“The more you love your son, the more you hate in him, the liar, the drunkard, the traitor” (E.H. Gifford). To imagine God’s situation, picture a judge who is also a father, who sits at the trial of his very guilty son. A judge knows that he cannot let his son go, for without justice no society can survive. How much less can a loving God merely ignore or suspend justice for us who are loved, yet guilty of rebellion against His loving authority?

Jesus Christ is God. Jesus is God Himself come to earth. He first lived a perfect life, loving God with all His heart, soul and mind, fulfilling all human obligation to God. He lived the life you owed- a perfect record. Then, instead of receiving His deserved reward (eternal life), Jesus gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins, taking the punishment and death you owed. When we believe in Him:

  1. Our sins are paid for by His death, and
  2. His perfect life record is transferred to our account.

So God accepts and regards us as if we had done all Christ has done.

III. What You Must Do

You must repent. There first must be an admission that you have been living as your own master, worshiping the wrong things, violating God’s loving laws. “Repentance” means you ask forgiveness and turn from that stance with a willingness to live for and center on Him.

You must believe. Faith is transferring your trust from your own efforts to the efforts of Christ. You were relying on other things to make you acceptable, but now you consciously begin relying on what Jesus did for your acceptance with God. All you need is nothing. If you think, “God owes me something for all my efforts,” you are still on the outside.

Pray after this fashion: “I see that I am more flawed and sinful that I ever dared believe, but that I am even more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I turn from my old life of living for myself. I have nothing in my record to merit Your approval, but I now rest in what Jesus did and ask to be accepted into God’s family for His sake.” When you make this transaction, two things happen at once:

  1. your accounts are cleared, your sins are wiped out permanently,
    you are adopted legally into God’s family, and
  2. the Holy Spirit enters your heart and begins to change you into
    the character of Jesus.

You must follow through. Tell a Christian friend about your commitment. Get yourself training in the basic Christian disciplines of prayer, worship, Bible study and fellowship with other Christians. You can contact our church office at 706-820-2833, and we will be eager to connect you with someone who can help you grow as a Christian.

Why Should I Seek To Know God?

On the one hand, you may feel very much that you “need” God. Even though you may recognize that you have needs only God can meet, you must not try to use Him to achieve your own ends. It is not possible to bargain with God. (‘TII do this if You will do that.”) That is not Christianity at all, but a form of magic or paganism in which you appease the cranky deity to get a favor. Are you getting into Christianity to serve God or to get God to serve you? Those are two opposite motives, and they result in two different religions. You must come to God because you:

  1. owe it to Him to give Him your life (because He is your Creator), and
  2. are deeply grateful to Him for sacrificing His Son (because He is your Redeemer).

On the other hand, you may feel no need at all or interest in knowing God. This does not mean you should stay uncommitted. If you were created by God, then you owe Him your life, whether you feel like it or not. You are obligated to seek Him and ask Him to soften your heart and enlighten your eyes. If you say, ’1 have no faith,” that is no excuse either. You need only doubt your doubts. No one can doubt everything at once-you must believe in something to doubt something else. For example, do you believe you are competent to run your own life? Where is the evidence for that? Why doubt everything but your doubts about God and your faith in yourself? Is that fair? You owe it to God to seek Him. Do so.

What If I Am Not Ready To Proceed?

Make a list of issues that you perceive to be barriers to your crossing the line into faith. Here is a possible set of headings:

  • Content issues: Do you understand the basics of the Christian message – sin, Jesus as God, sacrifice, faith, etc.?
  • Coherence issues: Are there intellectual problems you have with Christianity? Objections to the Christian faith which you cannot resolve in your mind?
  • Cost issues: Do you perceive a move into full Christian faith will cost you something dear? What fears do you have about commitment?

Now talk to some Christian friend until they’re resolved, or contact our office at 757-220-0147. We will be happy to connect you with someone you could talk to about these matters.


~ adapted from the work of Timothy Keller | Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City, NY

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Understanding Scripture Correctly

by Denis Haack, Ransom Fellowship


Consider this thought experiment. You are attending a small group Bible study, and the discussion has been lively. Someone comments, “Jesus came into a broken, fallen world. The problem in this case is hunger, the need to eat, and as the Redeemer he solves the problem with a special supply of food. Won’t it be great in heaven when we won’t need food any more?”

Here is the thought experiment: Is this a legitimate understanding of the text?

My thought experiment would make more sense if I told you what text of Scripture the small group was studying. It’s Mark 6:30-44. Jesus had sent the 12 apostles out on a mission to tell people the gospel of the Kingdom and to heal the sick and oppressed. Now, we pick up the narrative as Mark reports it:

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. 

When we read something—this Scripture or any other text, or even something outside of Scripture—we read it through some lens, some perspective that shapes our understanding. No one comes to any text as an infinitely neutral observer. It’s impossible. We have been formed by our ideas, background, culture and experiences even if some or much of it is subconscious. Since that is the case, we would be wise to intentionally adopt a lens that fits with our world and life view. For Christians that will mean a lens that is itself shaped by God’s word.

When I read the Scriptures I don’t particularly want to be creative when I analyze or interpret what I read. I want to be orthodox, correctly understanding the meaning of the text. There is plenty of room for creativity when it comes to responding to the text, applying the truth of God’s word to my life, world, and culture.

The lens I wish to commend here is the biblical Story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration (C, F, R & R). This four-part lens provides a perspective formed by God’s revelation of himself in Scripture, the written word and in Christ, the living word. It’s an approach to understanding Scripture that grows as we study so that the more we know the Bible, the better able we are to understand each section as part of one whole.

You have probably guessed from my thought experiment that I think the person’s comment about hunger is not an orthodox understanding of this text. You are correct. There is a problem in the story that Mark records, but it’s not hunger. (More on that in a moment.)

Examining the Lens

There are several reasons why it makes sense to use C, F, R & R as a perspective to guide our understanding of Scripture. First, it is biblical. We are not bringing something foreign in from the outside, but allowing the Story of Scripture to interpret Scripture.

Second, it is natural. If I don’t understand a comment you have made, it’s only natural to ask you what you meant. Or I can take what else you’ve said and allow it to make sense of your latest comment. I may still have trouble understanding you, but at least no one would argue I’m going about things wrongly.

Third, it is historical. Reading each part of the Bible in light of the whole is not a new idea, but one that resonates in the teaching of orthodox Christian belief and practice over the past 2000 years.

And finally, it is substantive. By that I mean it helps us get the heart of the biblical message, to the real content of God’s revelation. It doesn’t just skim the surface.

More specifically, the hermeneutic or interpretive lens of C, F, R & R provides us with two helpful and interconnected avenues for understanding the text of Scripture.

First, it provides us with a world & life view that is both profoundly satisfying and fully holistic. C, F, R & R is the Story as it unfolds from Genesis to Revelation. All of history, reality, culture, and life fit in this Story because it is God’s Story, the Story of how he is bringing all things to their appointed end in Christ.

Each of the four chapters or parts answer key questions that every worldview or truth claim or belief system (philosophical or religious) must address.

Creation: Where are we? Where did we come from? Who are we? What is the nature of the world, life, history, and reality? Is there a God? If so, what is this God like?

Fall: What is wrong? How did it come about? How is it manifested? Can we solve it by ourselves? Can we know right and wrong, truth and error? How can we know we know?

Redemption: What is the way out of the problem we face? Has humankind found a solution? Has God provided a solution? How extensive is the solution? How is the solution made available to us?

Restoration: How will the Story end? Is there meaning to human history? Is there significance to our individual lives? What happens at death? In the end will there be true justice and a fulfillment of our deepest yearnings?

The second avenue for understanding comes because C, F, R & R is Christ-focused. This allows us to read each text as revealing something, explicitly or implicitly, of Christ who as Prophet, Priest and King is the central focus of the entire biblical Story.

Creation: How does the text reveal, implicitly or explicitly, Jesus as Creator, Sustainer, Word (Prophet), and Wisdom of God?

Fall: How does the text reveal, implicitly or explicitly, Jesus as Judge?

Redemption: How does the text reveal, implicitly or explicitly, Jesus as Savior, Lord of all, and High Priest?

Restoration: How does the text reveal, implicitly or explicitly, Jesus as King?

This Christ-focused approach is vitally important because Christ taught his followers to see all of Scripture as revealing him (see Luke 24:27). The stories found in the Bible are not given to us so we can extract “morals” from them, as with Aesop’s Fables, but to show us Christ. The point of Daniel 6 (Daniel in the lion’s den) is not “to be courageous like Daniel,” but that Daniel’s God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is sovereign over all, over the ruler of the entire known world, over his followers, and over all creation (even lions).

So, C, F, R & R provides us with a series of questions we can bring to each text of Scripture as a guide to understand its meaning.

The problem of food

Now we can return to the small group discussion about Jesus’ feeding the crowd of 5000 people. When we look at this story recorded by Mark, we can use the lens of C, F, R & R.

The story of Creation tells us that God created us as finite creatures. That means we are not, like God, self-sufficient. One way that manifests itself is in the need to eat. So, it is not surprising to discover that food was introduced in the Creation. (See, for example, Genesis 1:29-30 and 2:9, 15-16.) The need for food, in other words is not a result of the Fall, but a result of God’s grace to us. This is why we find food and eating in the Restoration as well. The great hope we are given for the return of the King and the consummation of his Kingdom involves feasting with him. We will continue to be finite for all eternity, need food, and have the delight of the culinary arts forever. (See, for example, Revelation 19:9.)

Hunger, as in the need for food, is not bad in itself, not a problem produced by the Fall. It comes from our finiteness, which God called “Good” in the Creation narrative. Still, the Fall perverts everything, even the good gifts of God. Needing food is part of being human, while the inequitable and inadequate distribution of food is one horrible result of the brokenness we suffer. This too is reflected in the Scriptures (see, for example, Isaiah 5:13-14 and 49:9-10).

So, in our reflection on the text in Mark 6:30-44, I would say the primary tension in the text is not the hunger of the people in the crowd. The primary tension or problem is in the response of the disciples to the Lord’s challenge to feed them.

The crowd had been with Jesus all day, and needed to eat, just as the disciples had been tired and hungry after finishing the mission Jesus had assigned them. First the disciples suggest sending the people away to fend for themselves, an idea Jesus vetoes. After all, Jesus had chosen the spot because it was desolate, away from towns (though not, as it turned out, from crowds). Then the disciples ask whether Jesus expects them to go spend “200 denarii” for supplies. That is an exceedingly cynical question. 200 denarii is the equivalent of 7-8 months wages for the average working man in that day, a ridiculous amount of money to which the disciples had no access.

It could be the disciples were still weary, first from their mission and now after a long day listening to Jesus teach. They probably had rather low blood-sugar levels. And they may have been disappointed that their day away in a quiet place alone with Jesus had not only been interrupted by a crowd, but by a crowd of strangers they now needed to feed. If so, I can understand why they responded to Jesus as they did. “Feed them? You’ve got to be kidding. Oh, I know, let’s just go spend $30 grand and make a picnic! Great idea.”

That is the primary tension or problem in the text. Not that the crowd was hungry, but that the disciples responded inappropriately to their Lord. They could have asked, simply, “What would you have us do, Lord? Command and we’ll obey.” But instead they were, as my grandchildren would put it, snotty to Jesus. They should have bowed. The mission Jesus equipped them for should have told them this was not an ordinary Rabbi. Jesus is revealed as Lord of all.

Eugene Peterson captures the narrative well in The Message:

The apostles then rendezvoused with Jesus and reported on all that they had done and taught. Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.

So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. Someone saw them going and the word got around. From the surrounding towns people went out on foot, running, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.

When his disciples thought this had gone on long enough—it was now quite late in the day—they interrupted: “We are a long way out in the country, and it’s very late. Pronounce a benediction and send these folks off so they can get some supper.”

Jesus said, “You do it. Fix supper for them.”

They replied, “Are you serious? You want us to go spend a fortune on food for their supper?”

But he was quite serious. “How many loaves of bread do you have? Take an inventory.”

That didn’t take long. “Five,” they said, “plus two fish.”

Jesus got them all to sit down in groups of fifty or a hundred—they looked like a patchwork quilt of wildflowers spread out on the green grass! He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples, and the disciples in turn gave it to the people. He did the same with the fish. They all ate their fill. The disciples gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. More than five thousand were at the supper.

In this text Christ reveals himself as Lord, providing a foretaste of the feast he will enjoy with his people in the coming Kingdom. He reveals himself as Lord, able to provide the grace needed for the obedience of his followers. And though he is able to meet all needs by himself, he chooses to work through the resources of his disciples. That is indeed, grace.

C, F, R & R Dismembered

One of the problems the church faces in the 21st century is that too few Christians are conversant in the 4-part Story of Scripture. In fact, since the Enlightenment, two sections of the church have reduced the four-fold Story of C, F, R & R so that attention is paid to only two of the four chapters. In doing so, they have dismembered the gospel, reducing it to something far less than what the Bible proclaims.

The first reduction of the gospel involves concentrating just on the first and last chapters, Creation and Restoration. The attraction of this is that it skips the messy parts, like the idea that God’s Son had to die in our place to appease the Father’s anger, or that God is angry to begin with. Things like hell can be skipped, along with sin and judgment, so somehow the gospel seems more attractive. Although this reduction tends to be found primarily among those known as “theological liberals,” it is the de facto position of many evangelicals who want desperately to be accepted and seen as relevant in a post-Christian pluralistic world. The problem, of course, is that C & R is not in itself the biblical gospel, has nothing distinctly Christian to say to a broken and suffering world, and ultimately provides no hope.

The other reduction of the gospel involves concentrating on the second and third chapters of The Story, Fall and Redemption. The attraction of this is that it concentrates on the primary issue, which is personal salvation. After all, why worry about trivia like vocation or politics or culture when souls are about to go to hell? Ignore all that and win souls, tell them a memorized, simplified outline of F & R and your Christian task is complete. Everything else is secondary, a distraction to this primary task. Although this reduction tends to be found primarily among those known as “fundamentalists,” it is the de facto position of many evangelicals concerned to evangelize. The problem, of course, is that F & R is not in itself the biblical gospel, is ultimately dehumanizing, and proposes a solution to a problem that makes no sense.

The Christian gospel is the biblical Story, which is a 4-stanza drama of Creation, Fall, Redemption & Restoration. All four chapters are essential; none are optional or expendable. If you are a Christian, embrace them all and rejoice in grace. If you are a non-Christian, please consider the claims this Story makes. Charlie Drew, pastor of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church (Manhattan), sums it up this way:

The promise of redemption is that, through the Messiah Jesus, God has worked, is at work, and will work to reverse everything that has gone wrong with life as a result of Adam’s fall. When we sing at Christmas, “He comes to make his blessings flow / Far as the curse is found,” we celebrate this great hope. The arts, the environment, worship, human relations at every level—all of these things are being renewed by the risen King. Certainly there is a future dimension to that renewal for which we must wait. But we must remember that Jesus has already sent his Spirit into the church, making us, even now, agents of all the good things that are to come. The believer who is content simply to improve his prayer life, and who otherwise waits passively for Jesus to come again and fix things, quenches the Spirit.


This article was written by Denis Haack, of Ransom Fellowship.  The original post can be accessed here.  A somewhat more technical prequal can be accessed here.

C, F, R & R is also a potent and practical lens through which to understand the Scriptures, a biblical hermeneutic which helps us interpret God’s word correctly. We commend it to you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Portrait of a Recovering Pharisee


by Nancy Scott

When Sally first heard the gospel at age eleven, she understood immediately that God’s grace is what saves us. She already knew her heart was full of evil and that she had nothing to bring to God. It made perfect sense that God would have to do the saving, if any saving was to be done. The solution of Jesus’ death on the cross was perfect, and she understood that He had died in her place.

The Bible church where Sally began her pilgrimage strongly taught the concept of grace. She learned that grace meant “undeserved favor.” Grace was getting something you didn’t deserve, whereas mercy was NOT getting what you did deserve. The gospel addressed both of these areas of life in the provision of Jesus’ death on the cross. So she fully understood that she came to Christ because God was reaching deep into her soul to regenerate her and to bring her to an awareness of her need and of His provision for her salvation. She entered the path to the kingdom on her knees, got up, and took off running.

By the time Sally was seventeen, life was not as clear-cut as it had been at the tender age of eleven. She had understood what it meant to be saved by grace; now she began wondering what it meant to live there. She began to struggle with the difficult choices of life and a tension in her desires to do the right thing. When she went to her Bible teachers for advice, they told her that God had given her all the resources she needed to live a victorious Christian life, and she only needed to avail herself of the Spirit of God who now lived inside her. If she tapped into His power, He would grant her the ability–and the desire she lacked–to do the right thing. The Bible teachers asked Sally if she did her daily devotions, and they recommended some helpful Bible studies. These things, they said, would help unleash the Spirit’s power to work in her life.

Sally took off running again. She dove into her daily devotions with renewed vigor, and even though she wasn’t a morning person, she began to get up an hour earlier. Sally was so grateful that God had given her this extra measure of grace to be so dedicated to him at such a young age. Things seemed to improve for a while.

Then something slowly changed. The excitement began to wear off, and Sally suspected that her non-Christian friends were having more fun than she. She indulged with them every now and then, only to feel tremendously guilty and to make a renewed commitment to God with each failure. The longer this pattern went on, the more confused Sally became. Why wasn’t God unleashing His Spirit inside her for victory anymore, even when she carried out all her spiritual practices and dedication? Why was the evil around her becoming more attractive instead of less attractive? Was it normal for her to find herself rededicating her life to God so routinely? Was this what it meant to live by grace?

After a few years of riding a spiritual roller coaster, Sally decided that Christianity was a good idea, but it just didn’t work for her. In her third year of college, bewildered and disillusioned, she abandoned her faith.

Much of modern Christianity, rather than being committed to the truth at all costs, instead fosters a safe place for us to hide from who we really are. One of the ways we do this is by re-defining righteousness into a manageable set of rules. We believe these rules to be divinely inspired, when, in fact, they may be defined by the geographic or theological subculture in which we live. The set of rules might include negative rules like “no drinking” and “no smoking,” as well as positive rules like “daily quiet time” and “church on Sundays.”

Because we are still fallen sinners even after we are converted, once we define a do-able set of rules to live by, something begins to happen to our self-concept. We may have understood thoroughly our need for the gospel of grace when we first turned to the cross, but once we practice our rules for a while, an illusion of self-satisfaction and confidence, in ourselves rather than in God, settles in unconsciously. We have now turned righteousness into a manageable set of guidelines, much like the Pharisees of Jesus day.

What was Jesus’ response to this approach to righteousness? In His sermon on the mount, He decried the Pharisees for equating the keeping of rules with true righteousness. He illustrated this with adultery, a sin most of us can manage to avoid, and reminded us that lusting after our neighbor’s spouse is no less evil than the act of having an affair. The Pharisee was able to convince himself, because he avoided the affair, that he was righteous, even though lust ran rampant in his heart. Jesus challenged this notion.

As Christians, we unite in our opposition against the forces of evil around us. Yet, we are often blind to the force of evil in our own lives. We see ourselves as “having arrived” because we no longer smoke or drink and because we now practice a habit of daily devotions. Our drive for self-justification is stronger than our drive for food or sex. It is the essence of our rebellion.

In many churches, the “spiritual” Christians are those who seem to have arrived at some magic formula for victory over struggle. Because we relate stories of success and victory in our Sunday School classes, rather than struggles with disappointment and failure, we raise a standard that, when we are honest, we can never live up to. When life throws its curves at us, and we do not seem to triumph, we begin to think something wrong with us that isn’t wrong with everyone else; we begin to think Christianity isn’t working.

God has chosen for our sanctification in this life to be a slow and incomplete process which holds out the promise of eternity in the Kingdom where true righteousness and moral beauty will be ours forever. God’s gracious intervention in this life reveals to us the depth of our problem of sin and who we really are before Him. As His grace invades our hearts, we begin to understand that, no matter how hard we try, we can’t reach deep enough into our souls to flip a switch that will enable us to do the right thing automatically. Only God can do that, and He will, but He has designed it to happen fully, finally, in the next life. He could have changed us immediately, but He didn’t. God has not yet changed our moral nature, but He has changed our perspective. And as we mature in our faith, we become more and more convinced of the value of righteousness as we see and experience our own lack of it. This lack causes us to hunger and thirst after righteousness, if we are, indeed, God’s children.

What happened to Sally? Fortunately for (and unbeknownst to) her, her salvation was in God’s hands the whole time. And He is faithful. He eventually drew her back to Himself after her many years of open rebellion. Since then she has spent a lot of time trying to figure out what went wrong the first time around.

Luke 7:36-50 describes Jesus’ dinner with Simon the Pharisee. A sinful woman interrupts their dinner to anoint Jesus’ feet with costly perfume and to wash them with her tears. When Simon objects (to himself), Jesus tells him a story about two men who owed different amounts of money and whose debts were both canceled. Jesus asked Simon which debtor he thought would love the moneylender more, the one with the larger debt canceled or the one with the smaller debt. This story intrigued Sally because she so strongly identified with the sinful woman. Sitting in a church full of seemingly perfect Christians, reading this story, she wondered how anyone who had not strayed like she had could love Jesus as much as she did. She understood the depth of her rebellion in that moment.

Sally’s thoughts, however, raised a question: Why would her sins qualify her for a deeper relationship with God than those Christians around her who had not rebelled as wholeheartedly as she? This seemed to be what Jesus was saying in his story about the two canceled debts. Years later, Sally realized she had missed the point, when a different interpretation of this passage solved her dilemma. She understood that the difference between Simon and the woman was not, after all, the amount of debt owed. Both owed the same enormous debt to goodness, a debt canceled at the cross. The difference was how they perceived their debts: Simon perceived himself as someone who did not owe that much; the woman knew better about herself. Jesus intended the story to show Simon that his perception of himself was wrong. In fact, when God’s grace reveals to us who we are and who He is, we recognize the depth of the debt we owe, whether we have rebelled openly or in ways that are more socially acceptable and, therefore, less noticeable.

Sally began to understand what went wrong with her Christianity the first time around. She saw that in her early years she was Simon, someone who did not recognize the depth of her own evil. She had perceived herself as a special case, granted grace by God to be better than most. After God graciously gave her a dose of her own evil, she finally recognized the kind of heart she had had all along. In the aftermath of all the pain and heartache, it was good for her to go there, for her to know that God is the one saving her, and that she is at His mercy. Fortunately, He is merciful, and the very evil she hid from, she now strives to admit and repudiate.

In her new understanding of living in grace, Sally recognizes the mix that this life is. She understands that the change in her perspective on her evil, her awareness of it and her growing distaste for it, is evidence of her faith, not her ability to achieve a different level of success. Because, even if she can do the right thing now, she is no longer naive enough to confuse her ability with true goodness deep in her heart, the goodness she still lacks, but longs for more and more. She struggles to acknowledge her own evil and how it works its way into every breath, all the while trusting that God is saving her, drawing her into the kingdom with each passing day, because her taste and her longing for goodness grows with each struggle.


Nancy Scott, a teacher at McKenzie Study Center, has a B.S. degree in zoology and an M.S. degree in biology. Nancy’s focus is helping university students understand Christianity in the light of the problems of science, faith, and contemporary intellectual issues.


This article (first printed November, 1995, in McKenzie Study Center’s monthly newsletter, “News & Views”) is Copyright 1995 by McKenzie Study Center. All rights reserved. Permission is granted for individual use and reproduction provided that this document remains intact, with this copyright message clearly visible. Commercial use and reproduction rights are held by McKenzie Study Center, and this document may not be resold or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from McKenzie Study Center.



Gutenberg College and McKenzie Study Center are programs of Gutenberg College, Inc.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized