Passive Christianity Is Dead Christianity

Passive Christianity Is Dead Christianity

What do you want? What do you desire? What is your ambition?

Do you really want to know? Look at your behavior. You do what you want.

This is a devastatingly simple psychology of motivation. But it’s what the Bible teaches:

James: Faith without works is dead. Don’t tell me you have faith if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (James 2:17–18)

John: Love without deeds is dead. Don’t tell me you love if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (1 John 3:17–18)

Paul: Grace without holiness is dead. Don’t tell me you revel in God’s grace if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (Romans 6:12–14)

Jesus: Discipleship without obedience is dead. Don’t tell me I’m your Lord if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (Matthew 7:21)

We may say what sounds orthodox, but we do what we really believe. We may say what sounds loving, but we do what we love. We may say what sounds like gospel, but we do what is our gospel. We may say what sounds like a disciple, but we do what our Master demands.

The same is true when it comes to our desire: we may say what we wish, but we do what we want.

Our pesky behaviors — they’re our worst betrayers. They keep leaking to the press what’s going on behind the closed doors of our hearts and undermining all the hard work our press-secretary tongues do trying to manage public perception.

Is It That Simple?

We need this biblical straight talk. We often need it without much nuance or qualification. Because we live in an age of paralyzing complexity.

Life is complex. We are complex. When the Bible often speaks in black-and-white terms, we quickly want to qualify things. We want to explain the shaping effect of our family of origin, the massive influence of our painful experiences, the added difficulty of our particular disorders, and what our Myers-Briggs personality profile reveals about our motivations. Cut us some slack! We have reasons why our walk doesn’t match our talk.

Well, James, John, and Paul would totally get it. In fact, if they could, they’d shed some light on the complexities and hardships of life and discipleship in the first century: the grinding work from early childhood, the frequent deaths they witnessed growing up, the brutality of every governing power, the arduous and dangerous travel, the difficulty of teaching illiterate people, the struggle to communicate between churches, the constant threat of death when evangelizing, the horrifying persecutions of friends, and the martyrdoms they themselves eventually experienced.

And yes, Jesus understands us, too. He created us (John 1:3). And he also became one of us (John 1:14). He is more sympathetic than we know (Hebrews 4:15). He knows how complex we are.

And he really knows how simple we are: we do what we believe, we do what we love, we do what we want (Matthew 6:21, 24).

Do You Want to Change?

So, when we look at what we do and reach the place where we don’t want to want what we want anymore, what do we do? We stop traversing the labyrinth of our mind and heart in search of the keys that will unlock the prison doors of our past, and we liberate the repressed potential of our personalities, and we go to Jesus.

And what does Jesus tell us to do? He calls us to action, because action not only reveals desire; it reinforces desire.

First, Jesus calls us to repent (Mark 1:15). Repentance is not mere remorse. Repentance is ceasing sinful behavior, and beginning to behave in ways consistent with holy desires. John the Baptist called these the fruits of repentance (Luke 3:8). Repentance may be more than a change in behavior, but it is not less.

Second, Jesus calls us to believe (Mark 1:15; 9:23). For Jesus, believing is never mere intellectual assent to a creed. It always implies and requires action. James’s statement that faith without works is dead is backed up by the entire Bible. If you believe God, you will do what he says (Matthew 7:21; John 14:15).

Third, Jesus calls us to follow him (John 10:27). Following Jesus is a life of pursuit of Jesus. It is a call to renounce everything (Luke 14:33). Yes, everything. We keep nothing from Jesus, and what we have, we receive from him and steward for him. We are not our own; we are his (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Our lives become an active seeking of Christ’s kingdom ahead of everything else (Matthew 6:33).

Now, I know all this action talk can be misunderstood and abused, because it always has been. No, we are not saved by our behaviors, but by God’s grace through the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8).

But Jesus calls us to receive this grace by exercising faith — by making behavioral demands on us. He does this because (1) our behaviors are the external demonstrations of our true internal desires, and (2) our behaviors themselves become a means of sanctifying grace. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17). Holy habits actually work to deepen our beliefs, increase our affections, and intensify our desires.

Make It Your Ambition

Christianity wages war on passivity and inaction. Our faith without action is dead. Eternal life is to be taken hold of (1 Timothy 6:19).

Christians must be graciously aggressive when it comes to the way we live. Words like striving (Hebrews 4:11), straining (Philippians 3:13), self-denial (Luke 9:23), fighting (1 Timothy 6:12), whatever it takes (Philippians 3:11), and courage (Psalm 27:14) are not for our lips only. They are words of behavioral action. And they are words of grace, not works-righteousness.

What do you want? What is your ambition? For God’s sake, be ambitious. Of course, avoid selfish ambition like hell (James 3:14–15). But like Paul, who made reaching the unreached his great ambition (Romans 15:20), make Christ’s kingdom and his holy call on you your great and holy and life-consuming ambition — the church he’s placed you in, and the people he’s called for you to love, and the work he’s given your hands to do, and the sin he’s called you to overcome, and the weaknesses he’s allowed you to struggle with, and the adversity he’s called you to strive against, and the suffering he’s called you to endure.

Do what Jesus says. Do whatever it takes to want what’s right. And then, with that new heart, do what you want.

Glorifying God in Unshakable Grief

Glorifying God in Unshakable Grief

Joy will come, even when it feels like the pain will never end. In the meantime, God promises to be near you in ways you can’t feel outside of suffering.

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A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce

The following article is a guest post by Rebecca VanDoodewaard, author of Uprooted: A Guide for Homesick Christians and Your Future ‘Other Half’: It Matters Whom You Marry. She is married to William VanDoodewaard, Professor of Church History at Puritan Theological Seminary. They have four children.

During a recent visit, my wife and I discussed these types of issues with Bill & Rebecca. I am thankful for her willingness to express her thoughts so clearly and powerfully in this article.   

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God hates divorce, doesn’t He? Absolutely. Isn’t the gospel about forgiveness and love? Yes, it is. And pastors and elders can use these two truths in isolation from the rest of Scripture and biblical principles to deny people divorce for biblical grounds. “But marriage is a precious thing,” one pastor told a woman whose husband was in prison for pedophilia. “It would be a wonderful picture of God’s grace to move on from this and focus on your marriage,” another one told the husband of an adulteress. “We’re working with him; he’s really struggling, and so you need to forgive him,” a session tells a woman whose husband has been using pornography for years.

Evangelical and confessional churches are striving to maintain a high […]

2017 GPTS Spring Conference: Trumpet Call: 500 years of Gospel Freedom

The 2017 Greenville Seminary Spring Theology Conference commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

The following files are in MP3 format.  To download, right click and save to your hard drive.

01 – Sola Scriptura by Dr. Joel Beeke

02 – Luther’s Providential God by Dr. Robert Kolb

03 – Question & Answer 1 by Dr. Robert Kolb

04 – Sola Gratia by Joseph A. Pipa Jr.

05 – Luther’s Preaching on the Parables by Dr. Robert Kolb

06 – Solus Christus by Cliff Blair

07 – Sola Fide by Carl Robbins

08 – Panel Discussion by Joseph A. Pipa Jr.

09 – Soli Deo Gloria by Dr. L. Michael Morales

10 – Law as Friend and Foe in Luther’s Theology by Dr. Michael Whiting

11 – Luther on Life without Dichotomy by Dr. James E. McGoldrick

Guard Your Health

As a young man, I often heard older people talking about their declining bodies and failing health. I grew weary of hearing them tell how their strength had diminished and how their aches and pains had increased. They insisted that they used to be able to eat anything they wanted without ill effect, but now practically every food gave them indigestion. Whereas they once had the ability to sleep soundly under any conditions, now any unusual circumstance would keep them …

Philippians 1:6: The Most Important Day of Your Life

A day is drawing near that will swallow up all other days. Great days, bad days, slow days, fast days, all lead unfailingly to judgment day.Watch Now

Dealing with Disappointment

Here’s an excerpt from Dealing with Disappointment, Deepak Reju’s contribution to the July issue of Tabletalk:
As long as we live on this side of glory, sin will make a mess of things. Unfortunately, when things go wrong, our vantage point can be …

Unforgiven: The Eternal Tragedy of the Lost

The Bible’s testimony is sure: torment lasts forever for those who never trust in Jesus.

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Politics and What It Means to Be an ‘Evangelical’

Electoral politics is hardly the center of everyday evangelical church life. It is rarely even on the periphery.

The Most Controversial Claim Jesus Made

The Most Controversial Claim Jesus Made

Of all the controversial claims Jesus made, one may be more incendiary in our day than all the rest: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In our pluralistic age, these feel like little more than fighting words. But have we missed their full meaning in the fires of the current controversies?

What’s surprising to those who would take the time to investigate more is that this claim first appears not in the public square or at a debate or showdown with religious rivals. Rather, it’s a private dialogue, in an intimate gathering, with Jesus’s closest of friends.

Comfort in the Chaos

His disciples are fearful, perhaps even beginning to panic. One of their own number has just left as a traitor (John 13:21–30). Then Jesus has announced that he himself will be leaving them for good (John 13:33). Now he informs them that Peter, chief among them, will deny him three times (John 13:38). Into this confusion and emerging fear, Jesus speaks a consoling word in John 14:1–4.

The banner over all that follows is verse 1: “Let not your hearts be troubled” (also John 14:27). Jesus as “the way” is first about the comfort and peace and assurance of his followers. These are not first fighting words, but soul-quieting, heart-feeding truth. Comfort first, not controversy.

Jesus is moving his disciples from troubled to trusting. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” That’s the negative. Then the positive: “Believe in God; believe also in me.” What is the great antidote he gives to being troubled, or being anxious or fearful? Faith.

And trusting Jesus is still the great antidote for fear today. But not just general trust. We need specifics — which he then provides. We could count them in different ways, but here are four.

1. God has a big house — and a big heart.

The heart of what Jesus says he will re-express in John 16:7: “it is to your advantage that I go away.” But first, he describes the wideness of his Father’s provision. His house is not small.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)

God’s house does not have only a few rooms, but many — not despite the Father’s heart, but as an expression of it. That his house has many rooms says something about who he is. And that he can be trusted even in the present trouble.

And these are not just rooms in general, this is not just mercy in general, but room “for you,” mercy “for you.” Jesus goes “to prepare a place for you.” Do not be troubled; you will be in God’s house! I may be leaving, Jesus says, but I am going to secure for you the most important good imaginable — so good that it dwarfs every one of your fears, if you only had the eyes to see it and heart to feel it.

2. Jesus will take you there.

Jesus has more details to give, and specific promises to make:

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” (John 14:3–4)

Not only is the Father’s heart and house for his chosen people, but Jesus himself will come back and take us to himself. He won’t sit around waiting for disciples to get to God on their own; he will come back and get them and bring them himself. And there is more.

3. Jesus himself will be there.

Maybe the two sweetest words in the passage are here: to myself. “I will come again and will take you to myself.” This is the great consolation to troubled disciples. Jesus won’t just get them to heaven, but he himself will be there. And the essence of that place will be communing with him: “. . . that where I am you may be also.”

Here we find a shift from place to person. Not only is Jesus heading to heaven, to his Father’s house, and not only will he himself come get his disciples and bring them there, but heaven itself for the disciples will be about knowing and enjoying Jesus. He will be there with us.

But Jesus doesn’t go directly from this upper-room conversation to heaven. There is a pathway to walk.

4. Jesus has prepared the place for you.

Twice Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2, 3). What does it mean that he “prepares” a place for his people? Is heaven in disarray? Is God’s house in shambles, and Jesus will be the renovator?

There is a second “way” in this passage: not for us, but for Jesus alone. And it’s inimitable and utterly unique to him. Where he goes next, after this upper-room conversation, is not first to heaven, but to death. “The way to where I am going” (John 14:4) is the way of the cross. Without Jesus taking this way (on our behalf), there is no way for us (to his Father).

“Preparing a place” doesn’t mean construction in heaven, but crucifixion on earth.

Jesus Will Be Enough

What comfort, then, do we find in confessing Jesus as “the way”? What communion with him do we find in this truth for which we’re often called to contend?

In John 14, Jesus speaks to his disciples in their confusion. In their uncertainty. In their anxiety and fears. And he comforts them by saying, in essence, “I will be enough for you.” You know the way already, because you know me. I am the way. I will be sufficient for you. You don’t need to look elsewhere; you don’t need to supplement me with anything else.

You’re disoriented, and I am the way.
You’re confused, and I am the truth.
You’re fearful, and I am the life.

Knowing me is enough, and will be enough, he says. Your search can end with me.

His Glory, Our Joy

Jesus gets the glory of being “the way,” (not “a way”), “the truth” (not just true), and “the life” (not just life), and as he does, we get the joy and peace and stability of having such a Lord and Savior and Treasure. “The way” is not centrally belief in certain principles and execution of particular actions, but trusting and treasuring a living person. At the heart of Christianity is not pillars to follow, but a person to know and enjoy.

Jesus is the way. By all means, contend for this precious truth in the classroom, over coffee, and on the street, but don’t miss its sweetness first in the depths of your own soul.