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Gospel

How To Tell Someone Off

thorramsey 2 comments

Indignant is a great word. I’m often indignant myself. I understand indignant people. As a matter of fact, I often become indignant about people who don’t understand indignant people. There is plenty of injustice in this world to be incensed about and comedy itself is primarily based on social criticism, unless the comedian is under thirty, then it’s based primarily upon making fun of how people look. “What’s up with Donald Trump’s hair?” Please, stop with the biting political commentary!

Comedians are often indignant about things, observing life with a critical eye, looking for hypocrisy and pointing out injustices (like other comedians who make more money). They are basically telling off society from the stage, often fancying themselves in the role of the Old Testament prophet, who spoke the truth based on the highest ideal possible – an Academy Award nomination. Okay, those were the false prophets. The true prophets contended the highest ideal possible was the revealed will of God.

One of my favorite examples of indignant humor in the New Testament (like I can find more than one) is the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians. The background of this letter is that Gentiles in the city of Galatia were starting to enter the fold. But since they were Gentiles, they had some extra folds that the Jewish believers didn’t, if you catch my drift. (They weren’t circumcised. Hello?) Some of the Jewish believers started promoting the idea that in order to be saved these new Gentile believers needed to be circumcised in addition to believing in Jesus. Welcome to Church, it’s circumcision Sunday!

Paul’s main point in this letter is that if you add anything to the gospel or take anything away from the gospel, then it’s no longer the gospel. And what Paul means by gospel is not a black singer weighing in over 400 pounds. He means something along the lines of “saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.” The gospel is grace through faith plus nothing. The people promoting this gospel plus circumcision idea were called Judaizers. Paul is so upset with their teaching that he writes, “I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”

This is a biblical instance of theological sarcasm, where Paul is basically saying, “If circumcision adds to our faith, why stop there? Why don’t you just cut off your privates? Really cut some skin off! Get really holy, guys!” We can assume they did not follow his advice, since there is no history of a Judaizers Men’s Choir who sang like little girls.

Again, I must ask, from whence does our prudery come? (When using a word like “prudery,” you’re duly required to use a word like “whence.”) The Apostle Paul was so adamant about preserving the integrity of the gospel that he rebuked those who distorted it with biting sarcasm, which leads me to ask, “If Donald Trump runs for president will he even need a vice president? He has his hair.”

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Why is the Gospel Offensive?

thorramsey No Comments

Why is the gospel offensive?

There’s no question that it’s offensive. But why? Do Christians mistakenly make it offensive?

It’s only after you become a Christian — the born again variety who experiences a conversion with corresponding voting habits — that you begin to wonder what’s happened to you. Maybe friends have asked you as much, “What’s happened to you? Because you’re offensive now.” Maybe you’re the friend and you’re wondering why Sam doesn’t suck on bongs anymore. Maybe you’re even offended by his new pot-less head. Maybe you’re another friend and you’re wondering, “If Mary says she’s a Christian, then why is she sleeping with her boyfriend? Is that how Christians act? That’s why I’m not a Christian, because if it’s about being good, I can’t be good.” Maybe you’re annoyed by Christians and would like to understand them better. And in understanding, you hope, maybe they will annoy you less. Maybe you don’t know what you believe about Jesus, but are open to listening (even though you happen to be reading right now). If you fall into any of the above categories, then you have been categorized. Congratulations!

Explaining what Jesus did on this earth is known as the gospel. For some reason, this is less offensive in written form. In the form of the person sitting next to you on a plane, it’s very offensive. I’m not sure why that always surprises us, but the gospel is offensive by nature. And the word gospel has nothing to do with choir robes and singing. The large black lady who belts out “oh, how he loves me” does so because of the gospel, but that’s not the gospel. The word gospel means good news. That’s why it’s offensive by nature, because when you begin to understand the gospel you understand the implication that it’s the best good news you’ll ever hear when it comes to God.

Earth shattering good news.

Good, but offensive.

And it’s not the part about being a sinner that you will find offensive. Most people will admit, “Sure, I’m not perfect.” But this isn’t about me. The point is, admitting you are a sinner is not the hurdle.

Now, if you happen to feel like you don’t need a Savior, that does make it more difficult to get saved. However, if that’s how you feel, I can honestly say to you that Jesus didn’t come for you. That’s right. Jesus didn’t come for you. (You see? I told you it was going to get offensive and fast.) Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” By the way, Jesus was being ironic, which is a form of humor. If you happen to believe you don’t need a Savior, this is just a sure sign of your colossal pride, the fountainhead of all sin, which is a sure sign that you are a sinner and need a Savior.

Okay, that’s usually not the offensive part.

The offensive part of the gospel is that Jesus is the only Savior who can actually save you. You are lost without him. You are blind without him. You are probably a member of the wrong political party. (Not really, but that was too easy.)

Christianity makes big, sweeping claims. We are talking about a man who rose from the dead, folks. Offensive ideas are built into the system. For example, Christianity isn’t viewed through a modern framework or a postmodern framework or any other framework. Christianity says it is the framework. It swallows up every other framework, every other religion, every other philosophy, every other ideology, every other everything. You cannot live outside of the Christian framework. You can only live in denial of it. There is no one who can save you from the penalty of sin and the power of sin other than Jesus Christ.

Yeah, I know.

That’s offensive.

Now, who wants to join? Lemme see those hands?

I know. It would take a miracle. Like something from God himself.

“Wait! Are you saying I can’t do it?”

I know. It just keeps getting more offensive. No, you can’t do it. At all. Zero. I guess that’s why grace is offensive.

“Grace? Who’s Grace?” asks some guy named Bob Saenz.

Why is the gospel offensive?

That’s why.

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Bible-based vs. Gospel-centered (Part 2)

thorramsey one comments

Here is another example in answer to our question, “What is the difference between being Bible-based and gospel-centered?”

Again, it all hinges on how we view Scripture. If you see the Bible as “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” then you most likely view the Bible as a book of rules. In other words, your focus is primarily the law rather than the gospel. Jesus told us that all of the Bible testifies about Him, so this must be our lens. With that understanding of the Scripture, here’s another example of viewing the Bible through a gospel-centered lens.

This example deals with the Psalms. In Psalm 119, it is written:

21 Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments.
22 Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies.

Now, if we read this with a view of the Bible as instruction manual, then we leave ourselves in a bit of a pickle, because we’re asking God to bless us on the basis of our behavior. We’re basically saying, as did the rich young ruler, “I have kept your law. So, bless me. It’s what I deserve.”

Those of you with simple self-awareness are too conscious of the “sins ever before me (you),” so it becomes a very difficult request. If you’ve ever prayed through the Psalms, you might come to this Psalm and pray very boldly, “Remove from me reproach and contempt.” But when you get to the next part of the line, your confidence not only sags, but it completely collapses: “For I have kept thy testimonies.”

Ah, not so much.

The glory of the gospel is that all of Scripture is about Jesus. That’s why with a gospel-centered perspective we can pray this Psalm with full confidence. “Remove from me reproach and contempt, for Christ has kept thy testimonies in my place.” That’s the gospel. It’s about what Jesus Christ has done on your behalf, not about what you can do for God. It’s never about what you can do for God. It’s a common phrase cited by preachers of every stripe, but has it clicked yet when you’re reading all of Scripture?

I pray that it may, because we are filled with a greater confidence when we see Christ in this passage.

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Bible-based vs. Gospel-centered

thorramsey 2 comments

What is the difference between being Bible-based and gospel-centered? It may seem like a trick question and that’s why clarification is in order. The primary difference is that to be gospel-centered you must be Bible-based. But someone can be Bible-based without being gospel-centered. Now, what on earth do I mean by that?

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus tells the two mourning disciples He’s walking with that the entire Bible is about Him, not just the words in red. The entirety of Scripture testifies to His work of redemption, which is why Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) In other words, Jesus said it’s all about the gospel. Thus, the entire Bible should be viewed through the lens of the gospel. When the Bible is not viewed through the lens of the gospel we can be Bible-based, but not gospel-centered.

For example, if we take the story of David and Goliath and use it primarily as an example of how to overcome the giants in our lives like David did, then we’ve missed the point of the story. This story relates to the gospel because when David slew Goliath, he saved the entire nation of Israel. What did the nation of Israel do to earn this salvation? Nothing. David did it all. David temporarily saved the nation of Israel based upon nothing they merited, Christ saves us eternally from the true giants in our lives, our main problems – sin and its penalty. David is not our example in this story. He is an example of Christ. We are the nation of Israel. Simple enough for a child to understand and yet how many Sunday school lessons are Bible-based, but not gospel-centered? Aha, now we’re getting somewhere.

If we preach or teach David and Goliath (or any other Bible story) and our lesson can be uttered in a local synagogue without anyone batting an eyebrow, then we have not seen the story through the lens of the gospel.

That’s a short and simple answer to the question.

That’s just one example of what it looks like to view the entire Bible through lens of the gospel and why it’s so vital to our Christian lives to view the Bible this way.

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The Subtext of Hell

thorramsey No Comments

In response to an interview that Drew Dyke, the editor of Leadership Journal, did with me regarding the doctrine of hell (read interview here), someone posted this comment. I felt it warranted a reply.

The comment was:

Exactly how is the narrative of Hell intertwined with the story of Noah, the fall of man, Israel in the wilderness, or any of the Old Testament stories? Redemption, sure, but hell? I know about the Hebrew idea of Sheol, a place of the dead, but I don’t know of any Old Testament references to Hell in the way we talk about it in the New Testament? I know Paul says Jesus preached the Good News to the captives, presumably those in Hell, but it’s not really Good News to tell someone in hell that Jesus could have saved you but because you were born 3000 years too early and got killed in the flood, well, sorry you have to stay in hell. Just wondering…..

The Fall (Sin)
James Hamilton wrote a book called God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment and he contends this is the entire through-line of the Bible. I believe he is right. The Apostle Paul’s one sentence summary of the gospel, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” is laced throughout account after biblical account.

The wages of sin is death is exemplified in the account of Adam’s disobedience to God’s command of not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve were physically expelled from the Garden. As our representative head, Adam’s sin forever altered humanity’s relationship with God. Both the physical death and the spiritual death that resulted from the disobedience of our first parents was God’s judgment upon humanity.

Now that we understand the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, we understand that God’s judgment upon our sin is a warranted and frightening judgment, exemplified in the doctrine of eternal punishment. There is no separating God’s judgment from God’s wrath from eternal punishment. They are all part and parcel of God’s view of sin and of God’s judgment upon sin both then and now.

Thankfully, God is not only holy and just, but He is loving and has always provided a way of escape, even hinted at with “he shall bruise your head and your shall bruise his heel.” Each way of escape illustrates the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross for our sins.

Noah and the Flood (Judgment)
The account of Noah highlights these same points. The digression of human sin takes us further and further from God’s intentions for humanity. In Noah’s day, as in ours, the thoughts and intentions of humanity were only evil continually. This account doesn’t leave us any wiggle room. The flood is God’s coming judgment against sin. Historically, God has displayed to all of humanity that He will judge sin in the most definitive way possible. The people of Noah’s day had opportunity to believe in the warning of God’s impending judgment upon their sin just as people today have ample warning to believe in God’s impending judgment upon our sins — unless we flee to Christ.

The people in Noah’s day could have believed. Noah preached the truth to them, but they did not flee to the ark God provided. They died because of their unbelief. They did not believe because of their sin. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God… The ark not only expressed, but made available the grace of God.

Abraham’s Faith (Salvation)
The Bible is consistent from beginning to end. There is only one way to be saved and that is by faith alone. Abraham’s faith and Noah’s faith were both examples of faith that is counted as righteousness, meaning that God credited them with a righteous standing before Him that neither Noah nor Abraham deserved. In other words, they were both saved by grace alone through faith alone in God’s promise alone.

To see people in the Old Testament as being born too early is to fail to see a God who knows the end from the beginning. It’s to misapply or misinterpret or misunderstand Paul’s declaration that this plan of salvation in Christ was before the foundation of the world. Christ is our promise and He was their promise.

Men and women have always been saved by one thing only — God’s grace through Jesus Christ. In Old Testament times, they believed in the faint echoes of the coming Promised One. In New Testament times, we believe in the clear voice of the Promised One who lived and died and rose again. In every story of the Bible, redemption has to do with needing to be saved from God’s judgment upon our sin through the means that He Himself has provided. That’s the story of redemption from beginning to end and the implication of God’s judgment is always that we are saved from His just condemnation.

The gospel of Christ is preached in the Old Testament and the gospel story always has the elements of sin, judgment, and salvation from that judgment by the means God provides. Hell is always implicit in that promise of salvation. The doctrine of hell is always in the subtext, just as Christ is.

The gift was free then, as it is now. And it came at just the right time.

No one in hell will be given an apology.

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The Subtle Undermining of the Word of God

thorramsey No Comments

I think we’ve all heard these phrases and not thought twice about them. Maybe because at one time we have actually said similar things. The phrases I’m referring to express sentiments along these lines:

“We serve God, not the Bible.”

“The Bible is not God.”

“The Bible is still our guide.”

“We don’t want to become bibliolaters.”

Such phrases, however well-intentioned, press to make a distinction between God and the Bible, fearing that we might get the two confused. (Thanks for the clarification. I can finally use that pocket Bible I was given. It just didn’t seem right to put God in my pocket.)

I was part of a church at one time that used such phrases repeatedly. In retrospect, I now see this as the subtle undermining of the Word of God. It is a tragic malady in the American evangelical church.

When the Bible is diminished, so is obedience to Christ. When the Bible is diminished, so is confident gospel preaching. When the Bible is diminished, the church is weakened, not awakened. (Now, that sounds like a preacher!)

How many preachers even today shy away from calling the Bible the Word of God? As a matter of fact, I just read an interview with an influential speaker who cautioned pastors about using the phrase “the Bible says” during messages (sermons if you’re old school).

There is certainly a thoughtfulness behind his logic, but at the same time it does highlight the difference between seeker sensitive and seeker aware methodology. Either way, being aware of seekers, don’t we all take pains to define our terms? Why not take thirty-seconds and explain why you refer to the Bible as the Word of God? It’s an easy fix if you really think that phrase stumbles unbelievers. The premise of Christianity is that the God of the universe has revealed himself to humanity in Christ and that revelation is contained in the pages of the book we call the Bible, where God has also revealed his Son. Let’s not become seeker delusional. In the same way that people don’t become Christians because someone convinces them the Bible is the Word of God, they don’t reject Christ because someone uses the phrase “the Bible says.” Sister, please!

Aside from influential leaders, let’s examine a few of these phrases that subtly undermine the Bible’s authority.

“We serve God, not the Bible.”

This is probably the worst of all such phrases because it creates a gap between God and his self-revelation in Scripture, as if we can interact with God apart from his word. If your understanding of God is not coming from the Bible, exactly how do you even know how to interact with the One out there? People can call upon God as he’s revealed in nature, but they are calling upon a God that they do not know. If I may paraphrase Calvin, the great reformer, “Nature gives us enough information to be condemned, but not enough to be saved.” God cannot be known apart from his word.

“The Bible is not God.”

Recently, my family and I spent a week at family camp in the mountains of California where I heard a sincere follower of Jesus say, “I don’t have a problem submitting to God. It’s my husband I have a problem with.” She understood that the Bible teaches submission to her husband, but somehow she didn’t connect that with God himself teaching submission to her husband. It didn’t seem to occur to her that if you disregard the Word of God, you are disregarding God. This isn’t about confusing God and the Bible. It’s not about a dictation view of the Bible. It’s about recognizing the Bible carries God’s authority because it reveals God’s thoughts. If the Bible says it, so does God.

I can agree that the Bible is not God, but the Bible derives its authority from God. Thus, hearing the words of the Bible are akin to hearing the words of God. They carry the same weight as if God himself is speaking them to you, because in fact he is speaking them to you. The Bible doesn’t become the Word of God through some mystical Barthian process. It is the Word of God. Reading the Bible is simply having God speak to you. I understand that’s going to be disappointing to large swaths of evangellyfish who long for God to “read your mail” via one of your small group members. But in spite of such unmoored subjectivism, if you want a word from the Lord, open the Bible.

“The Bible is still our guide.”

I love this one, because it’s so sincere and understated. The Bible is more than our guide, my friends. It’s our Judge. You don’t just read the Bible. The Bible reads you. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) That’s more than a guide. It is a lamp to our feet, it keeps our way pure, it brings longing for God, it is our delight, it brings life, it strengthens us, it enlarges our hearts, it gives us understanding, it is the path, it is the testimony of God. The Bible will destroy your life, so that God can give you a new one.

“We don’t want to become bibliolaters.”

There is a widespread idea in evangelicalism these days that one can honor the Bible too much. You know, like treating it as the very Word of God. This is the charge I heard the most in the particular church circles I ran in years ago. “They’re bibliolaters.” The clear warning in such a statement is that you can esteem the Bible so much that you become an idolator. We all understand that the Bible is infallible, but our interpretations are not. Thus, cautionary preachers utter such statements to foster a humble posture in our understanding of the Bible. That’s a wonderful motive, but the only way to foster true worship of the Only Wise God is to dig down deep in the Bible, because therein we find the very heart and mind of God. Cautioning people against adopting the highest view of Scripture humanly possible actually prevents them from having true faith and worshipping Jesus. I think it was Martyn Lloyd-Jones who said, “Every spiritual malady in your life stems from your ignorance of this book, the Bible.” A higher view of Scripture leads to a higher view of God and a higher view of God leads to a deeper relationship with him.

“They won’t remember one sermon you preach, so focus on relationships.”

In the last two months I’ve heard two statements that unintentionally undermined the role of solid biblical preaching. After a youth pool party at our home, standing in the kitchen with our youth pastor, he shared something some youth pastor guru shared with him years ago. This was the advice given to youth pastors around the country: “Those kids won’t remember one sermon you preach, so focus on relationships.” In other words, don’t spend a lot of time in sermon prep. Just hang out and make sure they know you’re there to listen. Prepare them for the local bar, I guess.

As a preacher (yeah, call me a preacher), this little thought didn’t set right with me. My first response to this youth pastor guru’s advice was, “Well, maybe that’s just bad preaching. Become a better preacher and maybe they’ll remember something you say!” Not that I think it’s an either/or scenario. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Don’t tell me you haven’t heard that before? See? Some preacher said that once and we all remembered it.

Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Coalition, made this point in an article he posted about growing up under solid biblical preaching. It’s not about whether the kids (or even the congregants) remember every sermon you preach. It’s about the accumulative effect of sitting under the teachings of the Bible week after week. It all adds up to an understanding of the grace in which we stand. Do you remember every meal you’ve had in the last year? You might remember a really special meal, but the other meals were just there on the table so you might survive yet another day.

And that’s the truth.

I swear on a stack of Bibles!

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