Category Archives: Quotes

Identity thoughts

A beautiful Monday morning, another day to marvel at God’s grace in giving us life and breath. O that we might use it to reveal that our identity has been radically changed — as we’ve been redeemed and adopted into Jesus Christ’s family… by His wondrous work alone!

Along the lines of a new identity, here’s Tim Keller from King’s Cross:

“Are you beginning to see how radical Jesus is? It’s not a matter of saying, ‘I’ve been a failure, I’ve been immoral, so now I’m going to go to church and become a moral, decent person. Then I’ll know I’m a good person because I am spiritual.’ Jesus says, ‘I don’t want you to simply shift from one performance-based identity to another; I want you to find a whole new way. I want you to lose the old self, the old identity, and base yourself and your identity on me and the gospel.'” 


In different seasons the Lord refreshes in different ways. In this recent season I’ve been thoughtfully challenged and encouraged by Tillian Tchividjian’s blog at The Gospel Coalition.

Here’s a sample:

The “what we need to do” portions of the Bible are good, perfect, and true–but apart from the “what Jesus has already done” portions of the Bible, we lack the power to do what we’re called to do. The good commands of God, in other words, do not have the power to engender what they command. They show us what a sanctified life looks like but they have no sanctifying power. Only the gospel has the power to move us forward. This is why the Bible never tells us what to do before first soaking our hearts and minds in what God in Christ has already done.

The fact is, that any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable. No matter how hard you try, how radical you get, any engine smaller than the gospel that you’re depending on for power to obey will conk out in due time.

I’ve thought about this before, here. But it is a wonderful reminder… how I need, again and again, to bring my eyes back to my Savior in the gospel!

Cold Day Quote

Yep, couldn’t move my fingers so well after walking from my car to the church this morning. Cold! And those who experience real cold will undoubtedly laugh at me… but cold for Bellingham.

Can’t resist posting a quote from Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, this morning:

…The bottom line is this, Christian: because of Christ’s work on your behalf, God does not dwell on your sin the way you do. So, relax and rejoice…and you’ll actually start to get better. The irony, of course, is that it’s only when we stop obsessing over our own need to be holy and focus instead on the beauty of Christ’s holiness, that we actually become more holy!

It is his main point in a couple of excellently thoughtful posts on Christian ‘accountability.’ Read the whole thing here.

Not balance but startle

If those two words don’t seem to go together, consider this excellent excerpt of a post by Dane Ortlund, a senior editor at Crossway Books:

You wrote that we live “in a restraint-free culture dominated by Eat, Pray, Love spirituality and Joel Osteen-grade theology.” I am as averse to such things as you are. But there are two ways to seek to redress this.

One way is to balance gospel grace with exhortations to holiness, as if both need equal air time lest we fall into legalism on one side (neglecting grace) or antinomianism on the other (neglecting holiness).

The other way, which I believe is the right and biblical way, is so to startle this restraint-free culture with the gospel of free justification that the functional justifications of human approval, moral performance, sexual indulgence, or big bank accounts begin to lose their vice-like grip on human hearts and their emptiness is exposed in all its fraudulence. It sounds backward, but the path to holiness is through (not beyond) the grace of the gospel, because only undeserved grace can truly melt and transform the heart. The solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of God—grace so free that it will be (mis)heard by some as a license to sin with impunity. The route by which the New Testament exhorts radical obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home all the more deeply.

Let’s pursue holiness. (Without it we won’t see God: Matt 5:8; Heb 12:14.) And let’s pursue it centrally through enjoying the gospel, the same gospel that got us in and the same gospel that liberates us afresh each day (1 Cor 15:1–2; Gal 2:14; Col 1:23; 2:6). As G. C. Berkouwer wisely remarked, “The heart of sanctification is the life which feeds on justification.”

Read the whole thing.

Rainy Day Quote (another)

C.S. Lewis conveys truth in such memorable ways. Here’s a thoughtful quote from Mere Christianity (Book III, Chapter 11) on Faith:

The main thing we learn from a serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues is that we fail. If there was any idea that God had set us a sort of exam and that we might get good marks by deserving them, that has to be wiped out. If there was any idea of a sort of bargain—any idea that we could perform our side of the contract and thus put God in our debt so that it was up to Him, in mere justice, to perform His side—that has to be wiped out.

I think every one who has some vague belief in God, until he becomes a Christian, has the idea of an exam, or of a bargain in his mind. The first result of real Christianity is to blow that idea into bits. 

Great image, isn’t it… blow that idea to bits (not too get too strident with rhetoric)! And I might, perhaps, suppose that even after we become Christians, we can try and re-construct the bits and slip back into this thinking.

May we see that by the work of Christ alone we have been transferred to His kingdom… and our entire trust, or entire faith, is in the One who has truly saved our souls.

Grace in the Word

I’ve not been posting much… but partly that’s because I’ve been reading a lot. I’m always tempted to just post a few quotes. I’m resisting, today. But here’s some of what’s on my plate right now, reading-wise:

The Gospel-Driven Life, by Michael Horton. Almost a must-read book, absolutely fantastic. Our men’s group at church is reading this, and the discussion has been insightful and helpful to my Christian walk.

Rescuing Ambition, by Dave Harvey. So far my favorite quote is “God’s glorious ambition for our lives begins with who we are.” Close behind: “We need to be saved by works – not ours, but Jesus Christ’s!” I’m only partway in… he’s doing a great job of not forgetting the gospel as he urges us to have the right kind of ambition.

The Evangelical Universalist. The author wants to at least raise the possibility biblically that there is room in orthodoxy for universal restoration. Not my position. So it is interesting to understand how someone can come to a very different conclusion than my understanding of the Bible.

Worship Matters. Bob Kauflin really has a marvelous tone and heart for truly worshiping God – not only in song, but certainly in what we are singing.

“Redrawing the Line Between Hermeneutics and Application,” by Brian Shealy, in Bob Thomas’ Evangelical Hermeneutics.

This last one is what I really want to share on today. I doubt any of my friends will read Shealy’s essay; it is a bit dry, and in a fairly technical book. But what he’s saying is deep, good, and true.

We live in a day when large theological words – words like ‘exegesis,’ ‘homiletics,’ ‘hermeneutics,’ ‘interpretation,’ ‘expository’ – are sometimes used but often not clearly understood. What so many well-meaning people say is that they want to ‘obey the Bible.’ And what that excellent phrase ends up meaning is a confusion of application and interpretation. Perhaps more accurately, well-meaning Christians can skip interpretation for the more ‘practical’ application piece. Finding an application becomes the interpretation.

This seems good but can quickly become deadly.

One can go to Leviticus 11:6-11 and find wonderful application (a Christian shouldn’t eat rabbits, pigs, or shellfish) that absolutely ignores the context and purpose of “clean” and “unclean.” That’s jumping right to application, without finding out what the text means.

Another example is Psalm 15. “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right”… and the psalm goes on to describe four main areas: not slandering, despising the wicked, keeping vows, and not lending money at interest. An application-based jump goes right to “this is how you keep holy and right before God – do these four things.” Proper interpretation, in contrast, would actually lead to an examination of context to understand the basis of the Psalms, of messianic influences, and also in cross-reference to understand that Jesus Christ alone is blameless. From a right interpretation (read: understanding), application can then be made.

The difficulty of the Bible for the church is a primarily interpretive difficulty. The Bible is a message of truth from God. Understanding that truth is the basis for all else. If you do not get the truth, then you end up applying untruth. You end up saying things are from God when they are not. You end up with a thoroughly human message given in human power.

This skipping of interpretation is deadly because the actual original message of the Bible is what is powerful. The truth of the Bible is described as the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). This word is living and active and piercing (Hebrews 4:12). And what we can do, if we are not careful, is substitute in our human message, our “application,” instead of the truth, the interpretation, that the Holy Spirit actually uses to pierce souls.

Shealy puts it this way: Preachers “cannot allow human self-centeredness or even enthusiasm for obedience to influence their use of hermeneutical principles. They must study God’s Word objectively to determine the original message that God intended.”

I’m convinced this emphasis is critical is because the original message is the Gospel. From Genesis to Revelation, the message is about Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Beginning and the End, about righteousness and sanctification and adoption and union and justification… all in and by and through Him.

In a rush to application there can be an abandonment of the actual truth of God’s message as stated in the passage the application is taken from. If there is a daily struggle for me as a pastor, it is here. Shealy rightly states that “only this goal [true interpretation] will exalt God’s Word to its proper place.”

Bernard Ramm, in Protestant Bible Interpretation, states this issue similarly in a rule: “What is not a matter of revelation cannot be made a matter of creed or faith.”

I suppose that some might disagree, but to my mind and heart the desperate need of our churches is in this area of interpretation. For those who are born of the Spirit, who know Jesus Christ, the desire for application rightly follows salvation. And then many are run into misguided activities based on poor interpretation of the powerful Word of God. My prayer and my hope is that our activity will be enlightened by and based on the truth that is from God, in the revelation He has given us in Jesus Christ.

May we treasure, and make effort to understand, the incredible riches given to us in the Word of God.

The (right) doctrinal drop

We’ve been spending time as a church in John’s gospel, and what it says continues to impact my life. I’ve been thinking about how Jesus affirms the religious folk of the day – “you search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life” (John 5:39).

That’s me, I think. I search, diligently search, the Scriptures. I think that in them is life. I read and consider and meditate. I want to obey.

But actually, Jesus slams these diligent searchers: “…yet you refuse to come to me, that you may have life.”


It is possible to be a Scripture-searcher and not get the content.

Now, before you jump right to the “normal” conclusion – that doctrine has to go the 15 inches from the head to the heart – please bear with me. That’s not really what Jesus is saying.

When we say that, we mean that people are “eggheads,” full of knowledge about Jesus but not “doing” the Christian life.

Jesus, though, is saying that the “doctrine” of these Bible-searchers is actually wrong because it is not grounded in Him.

He’s saying that all their “doing” of Scripture gets them nowhere… they’ve made a head-to-heart connection all right, but it is the wrong one. They are are busy practically “doing” Scripture… and they have no life.

Why? Because Scripture isn’t primarily a collection of rules, a list of behaviors, or even an instruction manual on life.

Scripture is about Jesus.

If we don’t understand the reality of Jesus, we won’t really understand the Bible. And we won’t get life. That’s because of what the Bible actually says. The Bible points us to salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone.

Many – most, perhaps – nod heads sagely at this brief recitation of the Solas. Yet too many of us (me included) often don’t actually function like this amazing message — the main content of the Bible — is true.

Yes, the Bible is about Jesus.
Yes, the Bible is about the gospel… pointing to the redeemer, the messiah, the savior of the world.
Yes, the Bible is about life in Him – by faith.

Yet we still show that we don’t really get the Bible by our faithlessness, by our trusting in other things (ourselves, our works, our goodness) than in Jesus Christ.

I like how Tim Chester puts it. See if this makes sense to you:

“Problems for Christians do not often arise because of disbelief in a confessional or theoretical sense (though this may be case). More often they arise from functional or practical disbelief. Asked if I believe in justification by faith, I may reply that I do (confessional faith), but still feel the need to prove myself (functional disbelief). I may affirm that God is sovereign (confessional faith), but still get anxious when I cannot control my life (functional disbelief). Indeed, sanctification can be viewed as the progressive narrowing of the gap between confessional faith and functional faith.”

If you say – yes, that’s me – then there’s hope for you, in turning back to God in faith. In actually believing in our justification by our Savior, in actually trusting in His sovereignty and His work in us. And in crying out to Him who bore our sins on the cross when we fail.

Hmm… maybe there’s something to that doctrinal drop into the heart after all… as long as what is actually dropping down is the wondrous truth of the gospel.

May we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)!

Remember the gospel again

“Remember the gospel again; hear his humble plea in the garden, see his blood-stained brow, hear the whip crack as it tears his back, smell the scent of blood that fills the air as he is hoisted up upon the tree, hear him cry in agony as the wrath you deserve is poured out upon him, and he is forsaken.

Then let his words sink deeply into your soul, “It is finished.” All that he had come to do, all that you needed him to do, he has done for you.

Feel the earth tremble, hear the curtain that separated you from the presence of God tear.

Think about that kind of love and welcome, let your heart weep before him, and kiss him in worship as you humble yourself, loving him much.

Now, let the love that’s overflowing in your heart eventuate in true obedience, put off your old, dead, loveless ways of living, and let the love that has been poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit create true holiness of life.”

(from Counsel from the Cross, by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson)


Thoughts from a Gospel-Driven Life

I’ve been blessed recently by Micheal Horton’s The Gospel-Driven Life.

Some excellent quotes:

“It is not Christian orthodoxy but moralistic liberalism that reduces the surprising news of the gospel to the bland repetition of what people already know.” (p.25)

“The bible is not a collection of timeless principles offering a gentle thought for the day. It is not a resource for our self-improvement. Rather, it is a dramatic story that unfolds from promise to fulfillment, with Christ at the center. Its focus is God and His action. God is not a supporting actor in our drama; it is the other way around…. Has it really hit you that no matter what your inner voice, conscience, heart, will or soul tells you, God’s objective Word on the matter trumps it all?” (p. 26)

“God’s law is not a tool that we can use; it is the rod by which God measures us. God’s law says, ‘Be perfect.’ God’s gospel says, ‘Believe in Christ and you will be reckoned perfect before God.’ The law tells us what must be done if we are to be saved; the gospel tells us what God has done to save us.” (p. 60)

“‘God justifies the wicked’ (Rom. 4:5). As counterintitive as it is simple, that claim which lies at the heart of the Good News has brought immeasurable blessing – and trouble – to the church and the world. Be nice, take out the trash, stop nagging your spouse, try to spend more time with your children, don’t get into credit card debt, lose some weight and get some exercise. Every one of these exhortations might be valid… however, it is not the big story. No wonder people – especially younger folks – are bored if this is the ‘news’ that the church has to bring to the world. This kind of news need not come from heaven; there are plenty of earthly sages who can communicate it better than most preachers.” (p. 64)

“So God justified the wicked — not those who have done their best yet have fallen short, who might at least be judged acceptable because of their sincerity, but those whare are the very moment of being pronounced righteous are in themselves unrighteous… Protestants [that’s me] are just as likely today to assume that the gospel gives us something to do rather than [sic] an announcement of something that has already been fully, finally, and objectively accomplished for us by God in Jesus Christ.” (p.73)

“I often hear believers say that it was wonderful when they first believed. Then and there they were promised forgiveness, God’s favor, and eternal life. But over time the message changed. Now it’s time to get busy. The gospel is for unbelievers, but Christians need a constant stream of exhortations to keep them going. Yet this is far from what the Bible itself reasons. Not only in the first instance, but throughout the Christian life, faith is born and fed by the gospel alone. Christ is sufficient even for the salvation of weak and unfaithful Christians.

The great divide… is between an objective, complete, perfect and finished justification by God alone in Christ alone and a subjective, progressive, incomplete and unfinished justification by the believer’s cooperation in grace.” (p.75)

“On my best days, my experience of transformation is weak, but the gospel is an announcement of a certain state of affairs that exists because of something in God, not something in me; something that God has done, not something that I have done; the love in God’s heart which he has shown in his son, not the love in my heart that I exhibit in my relationships.” (p.77)

“The gospel is not a general belief in heaven or hell or hope for a better life beyond… it is the announcement that Jesus Christ himself is our life, for he is our peace with God. He does not merely show us the way; he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).” (p.80)

“We all want to be and to do something rather than to be made and to receive our identity from above. It is a blow to our spiritual ego to be told that everything has already been done. Yet that is the glory of the gospel! That is why it is Good News.” (p.93)

“It is often said that we must apply the Scriptures to daily living. But this is to invoke the Bible too late, as if we already knew what ‘life’ or ‘daily living’ meant. The problem is not merely that we lack the right answers, but that we don’t even have the right questions until God introduces us to his interpretation of reality.” (p.111)

Well… I’m only about halfway through the book right now. But what a refreshing and thoughtful treatment of the Gospel! How I need to hear it every day… as I, by God’s wondrous grace, am a light in a world that needs to hear the good news.

 This is not to say that I’m not progressively being changed, or that don’t I engage my will (gladly!) to follow my Father’s guides… but the center of our lives as believers is the story of the Gospel. May we hold on to the truth every day!

Avoiding despairing (un)belief

Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, who is one of the hosts of The White Horse Inn, a popular reformation discussion/radio program, warns of the dangers of giving morality lessons instead of the Gospel in our churches. We as believers must continue to grow in our knowledge of the Gospel… and indeed beware the return to morality-based salvation, even as we produce fruit through the working of the Spirit in us.

Here’s an excerpt from his The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church :

“If the Ten Commandments were not impossible enough, the preaching of Christian behavior, of Christian ethics, of Christian living, can drive a Christian into despairing unbelief. Not happy unbelief. Tragic, despairing, sad unbelief. (It is not unlike the [unhappy] Christian equivalent of “Jack Mormons” i.e. those who finally admit to themselves and others that they can’t live up to the demands of this non-Christian cult’s laws, and excuse themselves from the whole sheebang.) A diet of this stuff from pulpit, from curriculum, from a Christian reading list, can do a work on a Christian that is (at least over the long haul) “faith destroying.” You might be in just this position this evening.

Many of us have friends whose story is not a far cry from this. We all regularly rub shoulders with such “alumni of the Christian faith” who are sad that the Gospel of Christ didn’t (for them, at least) “deliver the goods,” didn’t “work.” In a Christian context, the mechanism of this can be, I think, a very simple one:

1. You come to believe that you have been justified freely because of Christ’s shed blood.

2. Freely, for the sake of Jesus’ innocent sufferings and death, God has forgiven your sin, adopted you as a son or daughter, reconciled you to Himself, given you the Holy Spirit, and so on. Scripture promises these things.

3. Verses like “Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” seem now – at first read – to finally be possible, now that you are equipped for it. Or you hear St. Paul as he writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Same thing.

4. You realize that you might have had some excuse for failure when you were a pagan. But that’s over. Now you have been made a part of God’s family, have become the recipient of a thousand of His free gifts.

5. And then, the unexpected. Sin continues to be a part of my life, stubbornly won’t allow me to eliminate it the way I expected.

6. Continuing sin on my part seems to be just evidence that I’m not really a believer at all. If I were really a believer, this thing would “work!”

We start to imagine that we need to be “born again again.” (And often the counsel from non-Reformation churches is that this intuition of ours is true.) Try going again to some evangelistic meeting, accept Christ again, surrender your will to His will again, sign the card, when the pastor gives the “altar call,” walk the aisle again. Maybe it didn’t “take” the first time, but it will the second time? And so forth…

Are we Christians saved the same way we were when we were baptized into Christ, or when we came to acknowledge Christ’s shed blood and His righteousness as all we had in the face of God’s holy law? That all of our supposed “virtue” – Christian or pagan – is just like so many old menstrual garments (to use the Bible phrase)? But that God imputes to those who trust Christ’s cross the true righteousness of Christ Himself? We are pretty sure that unbelievers who come to believe this are instantly justified in God’s sight, declared as if innocent, adopted as sons or daughters, forgiven of all sin, given eternal life, etc. But are Christians still saved that freely? Or are we not? We are pretty clear that imputed righteousness saves sinners. But can the imputed righteousness of Christ save a Christian? And can it save him or her all by itself? Or no?”


I’m not sure I’d agree with Dr. Rosenbladt, a reformed Lutheran, on everything… but I love his representation of Luther’s conviction that Christ is the “center and circumference of the Bible,” and resonate with his rueful statement that we in the church (including me personally) continue to struggle over solus Christus (and clicking the link there takes you to one of his articles where he talks about what solutions are)…

May we be overflowing with the glorious depths of what Christ has done for us!