Category Archives: Resource

John Owen on Romans

John Owen writes in the Introduction to Calvin’s Commentary on Romans:

“We have set before us in this Epistle especially two things, which it behoves us all rightly to understand — the righteousness of man and the righteousness of God — merit and grace, or salvation by works and salvation by faith. The light in which they are exhibited here is clearer and brighter than what we find in any other portion of Scripture, with the exception, perhaps, of the Epistle to the Galatians. Hence the great value which has in every age been attached to this Epistle by all really enlightened Christians; and hence also the strenuous efforts which have often been made to darken and wrest its meaning by men, though acute and learned, yet destitute of spiritual light. But let not the simple Christian conclude from the contrariety that is often found in the expositions on these two points, that there is no certainty in what is taught respecting them. There are no contrary views given of them by spiritually-minded men. Though on other subjects discussed here, such men have had their differences, yet on these they have ever been found unanimous: that salvation is from first to last by grace, and not by works, has ever been the conviction of really enlightened men in every age, however their opinion may have varied in other respects. It may seem very strange, when we consider the plain and decisive language, especially of this Epistle, and the clear and conclusive reasoning which it exhibits, that any attempt should ever be made by a reasonable being, acknowledging the authority of Scripture, to pervert what it plainly teaches, and to evade what it clearly proves. But a right view of what human nature is, when unrenewed, as exhibited in God’s Word, and as proved by history and made evident by observation, enables us fully to account for what would otherwise remain an enigma. No truth is more fully confirmed by facts (and it ought ever to be remembered) than that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” and that he “cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” This declaration clearly accounts for the fact, that men of great learning have often misunderstood many things in Scripture, and such things as are plain enough even to the unlettered when spiritually enlightened. The learned Scribes and Rabbins were blind leaders of the blind, when even babes understood the mysteries of the kingdom of God: and no better then the Scribes are many learned men, professing Christianity, in our day.

There is indeed a special reason why, on these points, unenlightened men should contrive means to evade the obvious meaning of Scripture; for they are such things as come in constant contact with a principle, the strongest that belongs to human nature in its fallen state. Other doctrines may be held as speculations, and kept, as it were, at a distance; but when we come to merit and grace, to work and faith, man’s pride is touched; and as long as under he is its prevailing influence, he will be certain, in some way or another, direct or evasive, to support merit in opposition to grace, or works in opposition to faith. When the authority of tradition supplanted the authority of Scripture, the doctrine of merit so prevailed, that the preposterous idea, that merits were a salable and a transferable commodity, gained ground in the world. A notion of this kind is too gross and absurd to be entertained by any who acknowledge God’s Word as the only umpire in religion; and yet what is not essentially different has often been maintained; for to say that salvation is partly by faith and partly by works, is really the same thing, inasmuch as the principle of merit is thereby admitted. Man naturally cleaves to his own righteousness; all those who are ignorant are self-righteous, and all the learned who understand not the gospel; and it is wonderful what ingenious evasions and learned subtleties men will have recourse to in order to resist the plain testimony of Scripture. When they cannot maintain their ground as advocates of salvation alone by merits, they will attempt to maintain it as advocates of a system, which allows a part to grace and a part to works — an amalgamation which Paul expressly repudiates, Romans 11:6.

But it is remarkable how the innate disposition of man has displayed itself in this respect. Conscious, as it were, in some measure of moral imperfections, he has been striving for the most part to merit his salvation by ceremonial works. This has been the case in all ages with heathens: their scarifies, austerities, and mechanical devotions were their merits; they were the works by which they expected to obtain happiness. God favored the people of Israel with the rituals of religion, which were designed merely as aids and means to attain and preserve true religion; but they converted them to another purpose, and, like the heathens, regarded them as meritorious performances, and expected God’s acceptance for the very religious acts which they exercised: and in order to make up, as it were, a sufficient quantity of merit, they made additions to those services which God had appointed, as though to multiply acts of this kind was to render their salvation more certain. The very same evil crept early into the Christian Church, and still continues to exist. The accumulation of ceremonies is of itself a sufficient proof, that salvation by faith was in a great measure lost sight of: we want no other evidence; it is what has been ever done whenever the light of truth has become dim and obscure. We see the same evil in the present day. Outward privileges and outward acts of worship are in effect too often substituted for that grace which changes the heart, and for that living faith which unites us to the Savior, which works by love and overcomes the world. The very disposition to over-value external privileges and the mere performances of religious duties, is an unequivocal evidence, that salvation by faith is not understood, or very imperfectly understood, and not really embraced.

The only remedy, as means for this evil, is that which we find employed by Paul in this Epistle. He begins by showing what every man, Jew and Gentile, is by nature; he proves by the clearest evidence, that all have sinned and become guilty before God. And having done this, he discloses the way of salvation which God himself has planned and revealed; and he teaches us, that it is altogether by grace and through faith that we can be saved, and not by works. In order cordially to embrace this latter truth, it is necessary to know the first, that we are sinners under condemnation. It is impossible, according to the very constitution of man’s mind, that he should really and truly accede to the one, without a real and deep knowledge of the other. The whole need not a physician, but the sick. It is only he who is really convinced of sin and who feels its guilt and its burden intolerable, that ever will, or indeed ever can, really lay hold on that free salvation which God has provided. And when this free salvation is really known, all other things compared with it will be deemed as nothing; and then all outward privileges will be viewed only as means, and all outward acts of religion only as aids and helps; and then also all our works, however great and self-denying, will be regarded in no way meritorious, but imperfect and defective, and acceptable only through the merits of our High Priest at God’s right hand.

-John Owen

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The Gospel Centered Life at Work

IdolsThe Gospel-Centered Life at Work is a great resource to help us keep the gospel in focus as we go about the work that God has set before us.  Work was not part of the fall, it existed before the fall.  The toil in our work was a consequence of the fall.  Through the gospel, God is redeeming our work to push back darkness and provide order in a broken world.  God uses our work to reveal our hearts, reflect His image in the world, and reveal deep idols in our lives that we run to for fulfillment.  In this study, you will see how we tend to gravitate towards a performance based or pretense based outlook on our work.  The study helps us to learn what a gospel centered response looks like.  This study provides a comprehensive, gospel centered approach to our work that is practical, accessible and faithful to Scripture.

Image adapted from The Gospel-Centered Life at Work © 2014 by Robert Alexander. Used by permission of New Growth Press. Excerpt may not be reproduced without the express written permission of New Growth Press. To purchase this and other helpful resources, please visit www.newgrowthpress.com.

What does it mean (practically) to be Gospel Centered?

What does it mean (practically) to live a gospel centered life and to help others in this endeavor?   Scott Thomas & Tom Wood provide some helpful insight in to this in their insightful book, Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God.  A few things really stick out to me.
1) What we believe theologically drive how we approach life, discipleship & our pursuit of holiness.
2) We naturally prefer lists and formulas to modify our behaviors more than we have a deep desire to know God.
3) We naturally think that our problems are outside of us and the solutions are inside of us instead of realizing that our sinful, rebellious heart is the problem and the atoning work of Christ is the solution.
4)  “The motivation question is the lordship question.”  This is hugh because what motivates our hearts reveals who our real Lord is – You can’t dodge this question with external pretending, it strips us bare and reveals what we really worship (even if we look great on the outside)!

Moralism-Do Good
“While many leaders may teach and believe they are justified by God’s grace, they effectively deny that same grace by their efforts at being a godly leader. They rely on their own moral ability or on the way other people perceive them as good, moral people; thus, they are blind to their own sin. They trust in themselves or in the faulty judgment of others rather than in the grace of God, the cross of Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. This type of leader often shames his family and the people he is leading into doing better and deals harshly with those who fail to perform to the level of acceptable behavior.
The gospel tells us that our standard for morality is Jesus Christ and that we only attain his perfect morality through his righteous imputation — we are declared righteous on the merits of Christ alone (Romans 4:3–8). As Tim Keller states, “I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe. I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope.” A Christian leader who neglects the importance of the gospel relies instead on systems and structures that offer techniques for living a good life. Moralism leads to methods of behavior modification where we seek to change what we do without addressing who we are as sinful people. Moralism does not help us gain favor with God or ease our pressure. In fact, those who rely on systems or structures for living a moral life or managing their sin are neglecting the gospel of Christ.”  Kindle Locations 433-443

Therapy-Smile & Be Happy
“Therapy is the belief that adherents enjoy psychological benefits by participating in something good. This is not a religion of repentance from sin or of living as a servant of a sovereign God. Rather, therapy encourages us to pursue the goal of feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace with the world. It seeks to attain a state of subjective well-being by resolving problems and avoiding conflict with people. It’s about doing good things so that you feel good about yourself.
There is a dangerously fine line between serving God and serving ourselves. Ministry leaders may tend to overuse their “speaking for God” attitude to encourage followers to find their own happiness, since, as they say, “God wants you happy.” Others may encourage disciples to apply “easy-to-follow steps to personal wholeness.” Some leaders may lean toward the “be nice and smile” solution, ignoring the effects of sin. A person who embraces the therapeutic mind-set often focuses on the positives and avoids conflict at all costs — even if it involves compromising principles or the clear teaching of Scripture.
Many well-meaning Christian leaders offer therapeutic solutions to the problems we face. They often suggest that we simply need new hobbies or retreats or routines. One church leader said in an article that his best way of dealing with ministry stress is to listen to soothing music, hang out with some good friends, get a massage, and shoot his guns. Another leader said, “I take mental holidays while I am at church during the week.” Still another said, “I have a note card that I wrote to myself that I stuck inside my desk. It simply says, ‘Lighten up and smile.’”6 These are all different ways of dealing with stress, and each takes a different approach to ignoring the root problems in the heart. I seriously doubt that a note card encouraging me to lighten up and smile will be of any benefit when a family member gets cancer or I’m counseling a friend who has just lost a child. Sadly, much of the “advice” given out by church leaders today is unbiblical. With our churches filled with leaders who believe these things, is it any wonder that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is thriving in the church?”  Kindle Locations 445-462

Deism-Be There if I Need You
“Deism is the belief that there is a God who exists, who created the world, but who is now uninvolved in the affairs of life. God exists, but he basically leaves us alone. At a practical level, deism conceives of God as a Divine Butler who waits for us to call on him to intervene in times of great need or as a Cosmic Genie who exists to grant our wishes. If our plans and goals do not succeed as we expect, God gets the blame for our disappointment and pain.”  Kindle Locations 464-467

Man Centered vs. Gospel Empowered
“At its core, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is based on a humanistic, man-centered way of seeing our problems. And it offers solutions that we can manage and accomplish in our own strength and wisdom, without depending on God. In this sense, it is directly opposed to the gospel of God’s grace, which declares us dead in our sins, desperately in need of salvation that only God can provide through the atoning, all-sufficient work of Jesus Christ.” Kindle Locations 472-475

“The main focus of most life coaching today is not pathology — a thorough examination of the nature of our problems and their causes, processes, development, and consequences. Rather, humanism is focused on behavioral change through increased awareness and choices to allow for desired future results and solutions to current “problems in living.” In other words, much of life coaching is less concerned with issues of sin, rebellion against God, and our need for a Savior; it is about helping us achieve our self-determined goals in life, enabling us to seek happiness in fulfilling our personal desires.”  Kindle Locations 491-496

Many of those theories are based on the assumption that the client is basically good and that the answers to the maladies of life are found by “looking inside” and focusing on our desires. Rogers taught that man is good and that corruption enters our lives from the outside.”  Kindle Locations 498-500

“But this is a wrong assumption that is based on the notion that people are inherently good, that rather than being inherently selfish they are simply in need of self-discovery. In contrast, we contend that any approach that relies on a client-centered coaching approach, even if it flies under the banner of being Christ centered, is fundamentally flawed.
The Scriptures clearly reject the presupposition of our moral goodness, insisting that the effects of the fall stemming from human disobedience and rebellion against our Creator are much worse than we dare believe. The apostle Paul wrote:  I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. — Romans 7:18–20”  Kindle Locations 519-527

“To experience their full God-ordained potential, a Christian leader must first recognize that he or she is a forgiven sinner made righteous entirely through Jesus Christ and not through their own merit or ability. Transformation occurs as Christians appropriate the gospel and live by faith in what God declares true in Jesus. Those who have been transformed by the power of this message recognize that every wrong action, thought, or emotion is fundamentally a form of unbelief in the gospel, in what it declares to be true.
Though a person can believe the message of the gospel, functionally we often reveal a deeper, heart-level belief that our power, approval, comfort, and security are more worthy of pursuit than God. Since Jesus Christ is the only way that God has provided for us to be saved, we sin when we find our meaning and worth in anything other than our identity in Christ. This sin is a form of idolatry, a refusal to believe the good news that God has saved us in Jesus alone, instead looking to and relying on someone or something to give to us what only God can give. David Powlison explains this connection between biblical idolatry, sin, and our hearts:
Has something or someone besides Jesus Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, and delight? It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question. Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?
Whereas the humanistic approach to coaching tells us that the problem we face is “out there” and the solution we need is inside of us, the gospel teaches us the exact opposite, namely, that the problem is really inside the heart and mind and the answer to our problem is outside of us — not in our work or effort — but in Christ alone. The gospel is the ultimate solution for every problem we face, and the answer is obviously not something we find inside of us. The power of the gospel comes when we look away from ourselves, relying on Jesus. As we trust in Jesus and his work on our behalf, we receive the supernatural power of God through the gracious gift of his Spirit.”  Kindle Locations 535-552

Thomas, Scott; Wood, Tom (2012-05-08). Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Heart of the Matter Review

““This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”” (John 6:29 ESV)

What is the work that we need to be doing?  That is the same question that was asked of Jesus in John 6:29.  His answer?  Be disciplined, work hard, feed the poor, love the unloveable, memorize the scriptures?  No.  All of these are good things, but they are secondary things.  The work we need to be doing in our faith is belief:  “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  The real battle for us is to remember and rely upon the seemingly unbelievable good news of the Gospel – that a good and all powerful God has made a way for rebellious creatures to return and be reconciled with Him.  We don’t forget this in our minds, but the glory of God & His gospel readily creeps out of our hearts.

Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation helps us to remember the staggering promises of the gospel by providing short, gospel saturated daily devotions that are aimed at penetrating the reader’s heart.  Paul Tripp, Ed Welch, Timothy S. Lane, William Smith, Michael Emlet, David Powlison and others share profoundly practical & impactful truths on subjects that include fear & anxiety, anger, contentment, faith, relationships, stress, suffering, identity and trials & suffering.  If you find yourself in the battle for belief, then Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives is an excellent resource to help you on your journey.  It is available from New Growth Press at their online store, Amazon or WTS Books.  You can sign up to win a free copy here.

Free to Love

“Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” (1 John 2:10 ESV)

You are free to love the people in your life when you love God more than anything. Because their love and acceptance is not your ultimate goal, you won’t be enslaved by your expectations for them and the disappointments that inevitably follow. Jesus is calling you to turn from love of self to love for him. Think about how Jesus has loved you—he lived the perfect life you should have lived, and he died the death you deserved.

When you wake up every morning and interact personally with the one who has done all this for you, your family’s slights and insults won’t plague you in the same way. This won’t be automatic or easy. Jesus said that each of us must take up our cross every day (Luke 9:23).

You must daily die to your self-centeredness by finding your identity in what Jesus has done for you in his life, death, and resurrection. As you do this every day, you will turn from making anything else in creation more important to you than the God who has rescued you from your self-centeredness. Growing as a disciple is gradual, in the same way that the crucifixion was slow and agonizing. As we die to self and embrace our new identity in Christ, God is slowly and patiently bringing us to the end of ourselves, so that he might fill us with the life of Christ.”

by Timothy S. Lane, August 28, p 241.  From Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Copyright © 2012 by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Used by permission of New Growth Press.

Relational Idols

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 2:28–3:3 ESV)

“No human being was ever meant to be the source of personal joy and contentment for someone else. Your spouse, your friends, and your children cannot be the sources of your identity. When you seek to define who you are through those relationships, you are asking another sinner to be your personal messiah, to give you the inward rest of soul that only God can give. Only when I have sought my identity in the proper place (in my relationship with God) am I able to put you in the proper place as well. When I relate to you knowing that I am God’s child and the recipient of his grace, I am able to serve and love you.

However, if I am seeking to get identity from you, I will watch you too closely. I will become acutely aware of your weaknesses and failures. I will become overly critical, frustrated, and angry. I will be angry not because you are a sinner, but because you have failed to deliver the one thing I seek from you: identity.

When I remember that Christ has given me everything I need to be the person he has designed me to be, I am free to serve and love you. When I know who I am, I am free to be humble, gentle, patient, forbearing, and loving as we navigate the inevitable messiness of relationships.”

Why doesn’t God just make your relationships better overnight? We often think that if God really cared for us, he would make our relationships easier. In reality, a difficult relationship is a mark of his love and care.

We would prefer that God would just change the relationship, but he won’t be content until the relationship changes us too. This is how God created relationships to function.
What happens in the messiness of relationships is that our hearts are revealed, our weaknesses are exposed, and we start coming to the end of ourselves. Only when this happens do we reach out for the help God alone can provide. Weak and needy people finding their hope in Christ’s grace are what mark a mature relationship.

The most dangerous aspect of your relationships is not your weakness, but your delusions of strength. Self-reliance is almost always a component of a bad relationship.
While we would like to avoid the mess and enjoy deep and intimate community, God says that it is in the very process of working through the mess that intimacy is found.

Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, February 14, p 45 & January 16, p 16.  From Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Copyright © 2012 by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Used by permission of New Growth Press.

You Can Rest

“He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:9–14 ESV)

“Feel the futility of it. In the Old Testament, the priests of Israel were required to offer daily sacrifices to atone for sins. Hebrews points out that the fact these sacrifices had to be performed over and over for hundreds of years shows that they were ineffective in removing sin (Hebrews 10:1–2). Let the language of these tasks being “endless” and being required “year after year” make you tired.

But when Jesus comes, acting as our high priest, he makes a sacrifice of his own life and body that pays the debt once and for all. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). Jesus, unlike any other priest, completed his work and was able to sit down. Like his Father in Genesis 1, Jesus sits because his labor for us is perfect and complete. In other words,

“It was very good.” Because Jesus rests, you can rest.

Jesus’ death and resurrection embody the promises of Sabbath. His work is perfect; complete. He has redeemed us from our sin. By trusting him and obeying his words and his Spirit within us, we are no longer slaves to our corrupted nature. We are free to be God’s children. His resurrection is a picture and promise of the new life we have now and will have forever when Jesus returns and we are resurrected as well.”

by Winston T. Smith, April 17, 108.  From Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Copyright © 2012 by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Used by permission of New Growth Press.

Worried?

“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.
O Israel,trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.
The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the LORD, both the small and the great.
May the LORD give you increase, you and your children! May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth!
The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man. The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence. But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the LORD!” (Psalms 115:1–18 ESV)

All that’s left to do is trust God. But that just happens to be the hardest thing for a human being to do. If it were natural to us, everyone would happily follow Jesus, and divided allegiances would be an aberration. But trust isn’t natural, and divided allegiances are the norm. We are all guilty of little faith and, to make things worse, it isn’t enough to simply understand this. Acknowledging the diagnosis does not automatically lead to a cure. You can confess it, and worry will creep in even during your confession! The cure is not to simply know what the problem is. The cure is to know the one we are called to trust. Keep looking at the triune God and how he has revealed himself throughout history. Don’t spend your time focusing on your wavering allegiances.

How do you seek the kingdom? When you seek the King, you are seeking his kingdom. This kingdom includes everything that comes from him. It includes his law, his grace and mercy, his blessings of life, adoption, and holiness, and all his promises throughout Scripture. Those who seek him feed on his Word and seek to imitate him.

Are you worried? Jesus says there is nothing to worry about. It isn’t our kingdom, it is God’s. We take our cue from the King, and the King is not fretting over anything.

He is in complete control.”

by Edward T. Welch, Dec 17, p 352.  From Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Copyright © 2012 by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Used by permission of New Growth Press.

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