Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Grace

There is a sense in which the doctrine of justification by faith only is a very dangerous doctrine; dangerous, I mean, in the sense that it can be misunderstood. It exposes a man to this particular charge. People listening to it may say, “Ah, there is a man who does not encourage us to live a good life, he seems to say that there is no value in our works, he says that ‘all our righteousness are as filthy rags.’ Therefore what he is saying is that it does not matter what you do, sin as much as you like.” . . . There is thus clearly a sense in which the message of “justification by faith only” can be dangerous, and likewise with the message that salvation is entirely of grace. . . . I say therefore that if our preaching does not expose us to that charge and to that misunderstanding, it is because we are not really preaching the gospel.

Nobody has ever brought this charge against the Church of Rome, but it was brought frequently against Martin Luther; indeed that was precisely what the Church of Rome said about the preaching of Martin Luther. They said,”This man who was a priest has changed the doctrine in order to justify his own marriage and his own lust”, . . . and so on.”This man”, they said, “is an antinomian; and that is heresy.”That is the very charge they brought against him. It was also brought against George Whitefield two hundred years ago. It is the charge that formal dead Christianity — if there is such a thing — has always brought against this startling, staggering message, that God “justifies the ungodly”, and that we are saved, not by anything we do, but in spite of it, entirely and only by the grace of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

That is my comment; and it is a very important comment for preachers. I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you really are preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, to the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God. There is this kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones in a sermon on Romans 6

Question: Martin Luther said, “we must offend these legalists boldly”.  Are you offensive to legalists? Does your church preach grace , but live works? Do you know someone who could use some grace in their life right now? What can you do to make grace known to others?

Out of Control

Last week as we eased back into work after significant time off from it over the Christmas holidays, one of my peers said “Gee, if the last few days back have been any indication of what lies ahead this year, we are all doomed to exhaustion”.

And it is true the first two weeks back in the office have been breathtaking (as in sucking the life out of you). I’ve had meeting after meeting, goals established that look to be impossible, financial targets that are significant, and I’ve once again come to realize just how much of my life is outside my control. And not just at work.

It’s been said that most of our stress comes from the failure to recognize the difference between a problem and a fact. Problems you can work, facts are just facts and no amount of consternation will change a fact. The stress comes from trying to change facts rather than working problems.

That may be true, but my problems (not just the facts) are utterly overwhelming and sometimes just thinking about working on my problems and challenges wears me out.

Do you feel like it’s all out of your control like I do? Do you try to control it all?

It’s hard for us to admit we are out of control. And yet I believe that is exactly where God wants us. He places us in situations that obliterate our ability to control outcomes. Why? So that we can learn to rest in the fact that He does control outcomes and He “works all things for our good” (Romans 8:28).

It is hard for God to work all things for our good when we want to work things for our good ourselves.

Working things for our good ourselves is foolish in a couple ways:

1. How do we know what is “for our good”? We are not omniscient like God is – what makes us think we can do a better job than He can? It’s the height of arrogance.

2. It is the utmost in idolatry to try to control what only God can. You’d think we believed we were God by the way we act sometimes!

Let me tell you something that I don’t want you to forget when you feel out of control, overwhelmed, and exhausted:

It is a huge relief not to have to be God.

So, let God be God, be faithful as you can where He’s called you, and then go out and get a milkshake. It will be alright. He’s promised. And He never breaks His promises.

Question: What are you trying desperately to control and as a result feeling anxious and confused and helpless? What will you do with this opportunity to relinquish control?

Made a Mess of Things?

“Those who believe that God has a plan for them sometimes encounter another problem – the conviction that they have lost God’s best plan for them. They believe that they have missed or fallen off the plan, or that something has happened to destroy it. We know the feeling. Somewhere along the line, we zigged when we should have zagged, and now we’re hopelessly stuck with plan B. It only takes a foolish youthful decision, a missed opportunity, the interference of someone else in our lives, or our sinfulness, and plan A is gone forever.

But if God is sovereign, then plan B is a myth. No matter how dark things look to us, or how big the mess we’re in, we’re in plan A. God’s plan for us is intact, proceeding exactly as He intended, neither behind nor ahead but right on schedule. Nothing – not our sins, failures, disappointments, bad decisions, nor the sins of others against us – can deter a sovereign God from accomplishing His purposes.”

Carolyn James – When Life and Beliefs Collide

Spiritual Disciplines for Slackers Part 2

It seems to me that a series on Spiritual Disciplines should begin with exploring why (or why not) we should engage in any Spiritual Disciplines in the first place.

We’ll take the “why not?” question first.

Reason One: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to earn favor from God

You’ll never meet anyone who wants to please God more than me. Really.

The problem is, many times I desire to do so for the wrong reason. As a recovering Pharisee I want to please God because I think I have to do so. I mean I am better about it than I used to be, but I still find my motivation for pleasing God is one of earning favor more often than I care to admit to.

This, of course, is completely contrary to the message of the gospel.

There is nothing anyone can do to make God love them more (or less) than He already does. Nothing.

Reason Two: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to simply acquire knowledge about God.

It’s fine to learn about God. That is what Theology and Doctrine are all about and they are good things. But they are ALWAYS intended to point to God, and never intended to be ends in and of themselves.

The problem with most of us is that we already know too much – more than we can ever put into practice.

The other problem with Theology is that it only goes to a certain point then it poops out. I mean, Theology can answer the question “Can angels fit on a pin head?” (yes) but it cannot answer the question “How many angels can fit on a pin head?” (who knows? no one!). And it never will be able to do so.

When the emotions aren’t there, Doctrine and Theology are the bedrock that keep me sane. But having said that, I will also add that I’ve never been hugged by a Doctrine.

Reason Three: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines as a bargaining chip to manipulate God.

God doesn’t need you.

He uses you, but He doesn’t need you. He was doing fine before you came along and will be just fine after you are gone. Peter in the book of Acts tells us that “God is not served by human hands as though He needed something”.

You can’t make God cooperate by giving Him things He needs because He needs nothing.

Reason Four: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines out of guilt.

The only good guilt is guilt out of having done something wrong which drives you to the cross to get forgiven. Beyond that guilt serves no purpose.

If you use anything other than the forgiveness of the cross to try to ease your guilt it won’t work and you’ll feel even more guilty.

Reason Five: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines out of fear.

Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those of us who belong to Christ.

The unbeliever is at enmity with God, but not the believer. There is no condemnation. None.

If you belong to Christ, because God poured out all of His wrath on Jesus on the cross, God will never ever be angry at you. Oh, He might be disappointed with your sin sometimes. He might chasten you (Heb 12) but He will not be angry at you in a wrathful way.

If He ever is, then He didn’t punish Jesus sufficiently for all your sin. And we all know Jesus said on the cross, “it is finished”. That means it was done and all of God’s wrath was satisfied.

So if you are engaging in the disciplines because you are afraid of God’s condemnation then you don’t know Him and you don’t fully believe what Jesus did was enough.

Reason Six: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to “keep up with the Joneses”.

I’ve heard a lot of manipulation used in the past to try to get people to engage in the disciplines. I’ve heard preachers use guilt to motivate. I’ve seen blog posts about so and so who used this reading plan to get through the Bible in such and such time.

And I, myself, am going to suggest some tools you might want to try in a later part of this series.

But be clear of one thing: please do not engage the disciplines just because everyone else is doing it or says you should do it.

Now that we’ve seen some reasons not to engage in the disciplines, in the next part of this series we’ll look at some reasons that we should. Stay tuned.

Questions: So what are your motivations for doing any Spiritual Disciplines? Do you feel guilty because you don’t do what you think you should be doing? Why? Do you feel pressured by others to “perform” in the area of Spiritual Disciplines?

What To Do With Your Regrets

Do you ever have regrets?

I’ve been sitting here thinking about how different things would be in my life if I had only studied a little bit harder in school, used a little more discipline, acted in a different way, stayed away from Hurricane Andrew when I lived in Florida, been a better husband, not moved to Atlanta, been more obedient, been …

I don’t know about you, but when I’m a little down or something hasn’t gone exactly the way I wanted it to, my mind always goes to what might have been. I know. I know. It’s a sin to dwell on the past. After all, I’ve been forgiven and God is sovereign. Nevertheless, on occasions I’m guilty of having a pity party and doing traffic with the demon of regret.

Someone has said that life isn’t a dress rehearsal. That’s true but wouldn’t it be nice if we could do it over again and do it right? Wouldn’t it be great if we could only go back and fix it? Things would be a whole lot different.

Whenever I have these times, I have an exercise I go through, asking myself a series of four questions that usually will give me some peace with my present circumstances. I thought I would share the process with you just in case you have some regrets too.

The first question I ask myself is this: What makes you think that if you did it again you would do it any better?

Knowing my track record, I suspect that it could have been worse. The man who went to his employer because he was angry about being passed over for a promotion said to his employer, “He has only been here for two years and I have twenty-five years of experience with this company.” “No,” his boss responded, “you’ve had one year’s experience and you have repeated it twenty-four times.”

The second question: Do you think God made a mistake?

There is a wonderful passage of Scripture in Acts 16:6-8 where Paul was on his way to Asia. Luke writes, “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.” You see, Paul had Asia on his mind … but God was thinking about Troas.

Ruth Graham was once asked if God always answered her prayers in the affirmative. “Of course not,” she replied, “If God always said yes I would have married the wrong man … several times.”

I look back over my life and, while I would have done things different, God was in charge. I suspect if He had wanted me in a different place doing something else, He would have had me in a different place doing something else. He does, as someone has said, as He pleases and He does it right well.

The third question I ask myself is this: If things were different and you had fewer regrets, would God love you more?

I suspect that our regrets come when we try to measure our lives on a scale of zero to ten, with zero being the place where we create regrets and ten being the place where we do it right and have no regrets. But, you see, God doesn’t allot His love on the basis of a scale. God doesn’t love the pastors of big churches any more than He does the pastors of little churches. God doesn’t love the smart people more than He does the dumb ones. God doesn’t have a special place in His heart for the winner of the Miss America Pageant and He doesn’t give points on the basis of how far a man can throw a football. And, maybe more important, God doesn’t love the “good” people any more than He loves the “bad” people.

Jesus said that the well people didn’t need a physician and that He had come to call the sick and the sinners (Matthew 9:12-13).

If the only way I can know the Great Physician is to be sick, I’ll leave out the vitamins every time.

You know something? It is only at the place of regrets that I can really know God’s love. Love in response to goodness (or right decisions, or obedience, or wise actions) isn’t love. That’s reward. Love can only be demonstrated in the face of that which isn’t lovely. When I look back, it is the valley of regrets where I discovered God’s love.

The fourth question I ask myself is this: Where do you learn — in the places where you do it right, or in the places where you do it wrong?

It would be nice not to have any regrets. But, then, if I had no regrets, I would never grow. Regret is a sign of two things. First, it is a sign of God’s working in my life and secondly, it is a sign that God wants me to do it different next time.

What is your regret? Just go to Him and respond to His love. It makes whatever it was that caused the regret seem to be a gift of His love. You see, He will love you and clean up the mess.

Question: Do you have regrets you haven’t let go of? What will you plan to do about it?

Performance Reviews and the Gospel

I just finished up on delivering nearly 30 performance reviews to my team members. I am exhausted. The only thing more tiring than delivering that many performance reviews in the space of about a week is working in a “performance oriented culture”.

“Performance oriented culture” is a significant business buzzword these days. Kind of like “people are our most important asset”. That one got a lot of traction too, until someone realized that “assets” are things like filing cabinets, carpets and lightbulbs. You put paper in filing cabinets and then forget about it, you walk all over carpets and you burn out lightbulbs and once you do, you simply unscrew them and plug in another one. So the “people are our most important asset” phrase is no longer in vogue. And with good reason.

I suppose I cannot argue with the idea that businesses do have to perform to stay in business. As long as team members remember that they are performing against the competition and not each other, then it is somewhat healthy. With the provision, too, that the CEO understands that work force reductions are never to be the easy way out to doing their jobs. The problem I see so often is that companies turn this performance thing in on themselves with things like forced distribution ranking and rating systems for their people. Where senior management expects the performance of individuals on the teams to follow a “bell curve” with some at the top and some at the bottom – and they force managers to rate people accordingly.

There is not a day that goes by though, that I do not thank God that He is a “manager” who doesn’t use a forced ranking system. Oh, He is demanding. He is demanding of perfection actually.

You see the thing is, I have Someone to stand in my place that meets all of the demands God has placed on me. His name is Jesus. He was and is perfect and according to 2 Cor 5:21, He became sin for me so that I could become the righteousness of God.

This means that when God looks at my “performance review” I get perfect marks.

There is no “bell curve” for believers. All of us are at the top – not because of anything we’ve done you see, but because of what has been done for us.

If you work in a “performance oriented culture” remember that…. remember that until you die… or at least until the next “business buzzword” comes along.

Question: Do you find yourself “performing” for God to gain His approval? Do you have difficulty separating the need to perform on the job from the lack of need with God? What about your motivation for doing things for God? What are you doing about these areas?