The Gospel is Saying

“The gospel is saying that, what man cannot do in order to be accepted with God, this God Himself has done for us in the person of Jesus Christ. To be acceptable to God we must present to God a life of perfect and unceasing obedience to his will. The gospel declares that Jesus has done this for us. For God to be righteous he must deal with our sin. This also he has done for us in Jesus. The holy law of God was lived out perfectly for us by Christ, and its penalty was paid perfectly for us by Christ. The living and dying of Christ for us, and this alone is the basis of our acceptance with God”

~ Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom

Gospel vs. Legalism

Gospel vs. Legalsim

What is the difference between legalism and the gospel?

  • Legalism (or Moralism) says God looks at how well we keep the law.
  • The Gospel says we are hidden in Christ. So God sees how well Jesus kept the Law (perfectly), all his works, and his death on our behalf.  Consequently, because we are hidden in Christ, God sees the work of Jesus when he sees us. The gospel says that, because of God’s grace, all that Jesus is and did is credited (imputed) to us, through faith.  (Colossians 3.3, Ephesians 2.8, Romans 5.2, Galatians 2.20)

So what is the difference between the gospel and legalism? It is the difference between Christianity and every religion in the world.

REAL Christians Waltz

French Waltz

Listen to how Bob Flayhart, Senior Pator at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL, describes a Gospel-centered Christian Life:

A Gospel-centered life is the Christian Waltz. A waltz is a dance made up of three steps. Christians need to consider the Christian three step when it comes to growth.

In the first step, we acknowledge our need as we see our sin in light of the Law. In the second step, we look to Christ to change us. In the third step, we fight against sin and fight to choose righteousness in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Repent! Believe! Fight!…Repent! Believe! Fight!…Repent! Believe! Fight!

An emphasis on the love and grace of God lays the dance floor,or the foundation, for the waltz. Unless Christians are convinced of God’s love for them and His favor over them by virtue of their union with Christ, they will minimize their sin and engage in blame-shifting and excuse- making in order to feel justified before God.

Unfortunately, many in the Church today teach believers a Two-step. The two-step is to simply repent and fight. They acknowledge their sin and proceed with new resolve to try harder to avoid sin. The problem with this approach is it bypasses the cross of Christ and the power of the resurrection.

Inebriated by the Gospel

Smoky Mountain Moonshine

Great grace laced imagery from Robert Capon:

The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievilism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred-proof grace – of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps – suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started… Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super-spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.

Living Dangerously

Danger Sign (Black)

One of the dangers of [obedience based Christianity] is that it can lead people to think God owes them a reward for their obedience. Their perspective in life is:

  • ‘If I do certain things, I expect God to come through for me’.   And when He doesn’t, they think: What’s wrong? Why isn’t He doing something to help me, and what can I do?
  • In the opposite direction, some people live in fear that because of their sin, God will punish them…This is a trap.

If we think we earn God’s favor by our obedience or disfavor by our disobedience, we will expect God to come through for us or, at the other extreme, will always be living in fear that ‘the other shoe will eventually drop’.

~ Jerry Bridges, from The Transforming Power of the Gospel

Appropriating Grace

Circle of Life (Celtic)

Here is an important reminder and challenge from Richard Lovelace, from his monumental Dynamics of Spiritual Life:

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives… Many… have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for their justification… drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance… Christians who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure persons… Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce, defensive assertion of their own righteousness, and defensive criticism of others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger.

This paragraph, surprisingly, caused somewhat of a stir when I posted it on my Facebook page yesterday.  Most appreciated it. Some who expressed appreciation, I wondered if they really understood what Lovelacve was saying.  I hope so.

So, how do we respond if we find ourselves among the majority who are not functionally appropriating the justifying work of Christ?

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Why All This Talk About Sin?

Face in the Glass

It has been a while since I have posted anything from Weak Dave. (OK. I know it has been a while since I have posted much of anything at all…)  But Dave has a keen insight on a timely and timeless subject.  It is timely, at least to some conversations I have had recently.  It is timeless, in that he addresses a topic that never goes out of date.  The topic is “sin” – particularly why Dave talks so much about sin, his own and our common condiditon.

Here is what Dave has to say:

Why always talk about sin, Dave? Why not be more positive?

Fair question.  Seems to me the Church has dumbed down the law and dumbed down sin, like the Pharisees did, so the Christian life seems doable, possible, the commands keepable.  We believers seem to have the impression that sin is something we occasionally do, when in fact, we never stop sinning: there’s a dark side, self-serving side, to our most-noble, seeeemingly-selfless deeds.  We think of sin in outside-the-cup ways, and spend little time talking about inside-the-cup sin/idolatry, and I think Satan could not be more pleased, at snookering us into believing that the really-bad sin is the technicolor sin, that we believers with our acts together, are pretty good folks.  Pharisee thinking.

I never set out to talk about my sin all the time, but I did begin to ask Pray-ers to pray for my faith life, my dependency on Jesus.  And the way He has answered those prayers over time, is to open my eyes and enable me to see many sins/idols that I never saw previously.  Getting new large glimpses of how much worse I am than I ever dreamed, would be depressing, were it not for the ever-growing foundation of grace in my life, that began in 1984 when Janet and I went through World Harvest’s Sonship Course, which was life-changing for both us.  Today I’m convinced that the nicest, sweetest, kindest, most-loving thing He ever does for me, is to freshly convict me of my sin of independence/self-reliance: my passion for worthiness of my own, unsatisfied with Jesus and His worthiness imputed to me.

When I have a sense of having been forgiven little, I love only a little: Jesus, others, myself.  When I love only a little, I’m critical, judgmental, competitive, rejoicing in the failure of others, both believer and pre-believer, and self-contemptful at my own failure.  I don’t enjoy others just as they are, me just as I am, Jesus and His plan for my life, just as it is.  Circumstance-dependent for my joy and peace.  Having the name of Jesus, but not the benefit of Jesus.  Living as joylessly and peacelessly as the pre-believers around me, because I’m so confident I know what would be best for me and those I love.  Independent not dependent.  ShepherdDave, not DumbSheepDave.

~ DumbSheepDave, having an even better year than last year, which was the best year of his life, because folks have been praying

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Why I Won’t Forgive Lance Armstrong


I have no inclination to forgive Lance Armstrong.  I feel no need to.  Armstrong, the infamous cyclist who has now been stripped of several Tour de France victories, an Olympic medal, and has had a host of other indignities hoisted upon his head, has finally confessed to doping in order to enhance his performance.  And his confession has seemed to turn multitudes to dismay.

Many had considered him a hero.  His story was compelling. A cancer survivor, he came back stronger than ever after his treatment to dominate the world cycling circuit, most notably in his unprecedented – and unlikely to ever be repeated – 7 consecutive victories in the Tour de France.  He then translated his fame and his story into the tremendously successful cancer research foundation, LiveStrong, which has raised and given millions-upon-millions of dollars toward the treatment and eradication of cancer.   To find out that Armstrong’s success was synthetic has led many to feel betrayed.

But not me.

It is not that I have any admiration for Armstrong.  I have had little interest in him for some time.  Armstrong is a seriously flawed guy, whose most serious character flaws had little to do with his doping.  Behind the scenes he was a despicable person who destroyed dozens of lives through threats and lawsuits in order to preserve his persona – his lie.   This is far worse than cheating in a sporting event – especially in a sport where nearly all the other participants were cheating just as much.

Why do I feel no need to forgive Lance Armstrong?  Simple. Because I never expected anything from him in the first place.  His failures and his fall have cost me nothing.

In the Bible the concept of forgiveness is often likened to that of swallowing a debt.  Whenever someone wrongs us – or we wrong another – whether by actual stealing, or tarnishing a reputation, or some other offense, something is taken from the victim by the perpetrator.  And a debt incurs.  (See Parable of Unmerciful Servant, for instance.)  What is taken may be wealth, or it may simply be peace of mind.  But with any actual offense something, tangible or not, is actually taken.

Jesus’ instruction to his followers who have been wronged is to extend forgiveness to the offender, just as forgiveness has been extended to us for our offenses.  Our offenses may be against other people, but they are also always against the Lord.  If nothing else, by our offense we belittle the Lord.  Or put another way, consistent with the above premise, we rob Jesus of the glory he is due.  We essentially say he is not enough; that we need something in addition to or instead of God and what he promises and provides.   Yet, in the face of such insult Jesus reminds us that we have been forgiven.  He has swallowed the debt we owe, paying for it with his own blood on the cross.  Further, by telling us that we ought to forgive as we have been forgiven, Jesus is not merely telling us to follow his model, he reminds us that we have been forgiven and we can rest in his promise to supply whatever we need.  In other words, whatever has been taken from us he has, and will, more than make up for.  Our loss now restored, we have no need to extract a penalty on those who have wronged us.

So with this understanding, one may wonder why I say I have no inclination, no intention, to forgive Lance Armstrong.  The answer is simple. In this instance, Lance Armstrong took nothing from me.  I have had no vested interest in him. While I found his successes impressive, and his cancer research foundation commendable, not one aspect of my life has depended upon him. So now to find out that he is a deeply flawed man, just as I am, does me no damage whatsoever. So what is there for me to forgive?

I wonder how many people, who are rightly appalled by Armstrong’s heinous behavior, have actually been effected by his fall-from-grace.  It seems to me that those who are seemingly chagrined should ask themselves what Armstrong has taken from them.  For some, the answer is a lot. But for most, if the answer is as simple as they lost their hero, then perhaps they ought to consider why they attached so much of  themselves in a mere man in the first place.

The only man worthy of hero status is Jesus.  To offer such adulation to anyone else is to rob Jesus of  the glory he alone deserves.  Yet this offense of our toward him is an offense he willingly swallows, if we will only confess and repent.

2 Mistakes Christians Make

Redemption Acccomplished But Not Applied

People tend to make two mistakes when they think about the redeemed life. The first is to underestimate the sin that remains in us; it’s still there and it can still hurt us. The second is to underestimate the strength of God’s grace; God is determined to make us new. As a result, all Christians need to say two things. We admit that we are redeemed sinners. But we also say boldly and joyously that we are redeemed sinners.

~ from Cornelius Plantings, in Beyond Doubt

Brokeness, Contrition, and Repentance = Marks of a Growing Christian

“So Repentance begins with an attitude of brokenness over our sin. But true repentance will be followed by an earnest desire and a sincere effort to put away  the sin we are repenting of – to put on the Christlike virtues that we see missing in our lives. These efforts often seem to be characterized by failure as much as by success. But the frequent failures should bring us back to a broken and contrite heart that mourns over our sin. Brokenness, contrition, and repentance are all marks of a growing Christian, a person who is experiencing the work of the Spirit in being transformed gradually more into the image of God’s Son.”

~ Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel

Fighting the Sin in Our Hearts

In Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul commands us:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (v. 5)

His list should not be seen as exhaustive, but rather suggestive.  There are many other things that could be included in this list – things which are mentioned in many other passages throughout the Old and New Testaments.

But while Paul’s list here may not be complete, his message is clear:  “Put your sin to death!”

For those who cling to the notion that once we are secured in the grace of Jesus that we have little or no need to give serious and ongoing thought to our sin and the lingering effects it has upon us – that all we need to do is look at the positives of the promises of the gospel – Paul’s words provide a much needed corrective.

Certainly, the promises of the gospel give us a tremendous status. But there is still much to be done; much we need to be doing.  The gospel gives us the confidence that no matter what we may find when we look deep into the recesses of our own hearts, we will never be forsaken.  Whatever we may find in the dark and dank depths of our souls, it is no surprise to God.  He already knows. And he is the one who is encouraging us to take a look for ourselves. God, our Father, does this with the reassuring promise that no matter what we find he will not love us any less.

Still, easier said than done.

I appreciate the work Jonathan Dodson has done to  develop the concept of Fight Clubs to help us put our sin to death.   Dodson bases Fight Clubs on three essential principles:

1. Know Your Sin

Look for the sinful patterns in your life and trace them to the “identity of the moment” that you are looking to for worth and/or meaning (good person, faithful parent, creative artist, successful entrepreneur, etc.).   For instance, your sin could be sulking and your false identity could be victim

2. Fight Your Sin

Once you know your sin/identity issue, you can begin to fight it.

There are two primary ways God calls us to fight our sin.

First, confess your sin to God and ask for his forgiveness for your God-belittling desires and decisions. (1 John 1.9)  Follow your confession to God with confession to community so you can experience healing and encouragement of the church.  (James 5.16)

Second, encourage one another to take sin seriously, to “put sin to death”. (Romans 8.13 & Colossians 3.5) Don’t let identity-twisting sin just roll off your back. Get tenacious about glorifying and enjoying God!

In short, you could summarize it this way:

  • Confess your sin (to God and one another)
  • Get serious about fighting for true joy

3. Trust Your Savior

Trusting our Savior for gospel identity instead of an identity-of-the-moment is the most difficult and important part of being a disciple.

Robert Murray McCheyene said:

“For every look at sin, look ten times at Christ.”

How does Christ offer you a better identity than the false identity?

Dodson writes:

If my sin was sulking and my identity was victim, 2 Peter 1.3 reminds me that my identity is godly, a partaker of the divine nature. I was sulking in ungodliness because I thought I deserved better circumstances. I felt weak. Peter reminds us that we have “divine power granted to us for life and godliness.”

This scripture reminded me of my identity — godly — but it does not stop there.

It also offers us a Savior to trust, a counter-promise of divine power necessary to live a godly life, not a sulking life. What a relief! Our identity is godly, and our promise is divine power!

So, again, in short:

  • Find your Gospel counter-Identity
  • Trust your Biblical Promise

The Difference That Makes All the Difference

Francis Schaeffer, of his own testimony, writes:

“I became a Christian once for all upon the basis of the finished work of Christ through faith; that is justification. The Christian life, sanctification, operates on the same basis, but moment by moment. There is the same base (Christ’s work) and the same instrument (faith); the only difference is that one is once for all and the other is moment by moment…  If we try to live the Christian life in our own strength we will have sorrow, but if we live in this way, we will not only serve the Lord, but in place of sorrow, He will be our song. That is the difference. The ‘how’ of the Christian life is the power of the crucified and risen Lord, through the agency of the indwelling Holy Spirit, by faith moment by moment.”

An important -even essential – distinction. It’s not just for the sake of doctrinal precision. It makes all the difference in how we live out our lives.

Paradoxes of Grace

In his excellent, perspective shaping book, Broken-Down House, Paul Tripp reflects some of the amazing paradoxes of the gospel.  Take some time to ponder these; feel the tension. This is what genuine grace is and does:

So grace is a story and grace is a gift. It is God’s character and it is your hope. Grace is a transforming tool and a state of relationship. Grace is a theology and an invitation. Grace is an experience and a calling. Grace will turn your life upside-down while giving you a rest you have never known. Grace will convince you of your unworthiness without ever making you feel unloved.

Grace will make you acknowledge that you cannot earn God’s favor, and it will remove your fear of not measuring up to his standards. Grace will confront you with the fact that you are much less than you thought you were, even as it assures you that you can be far more than you had ever imagined. Grace will put you in your place without ever putting you down.

Grace will enable you to face truths about yourself that you have hesitated to consider, while freeing you from being self-consciously introspective. Grace will confront you with profound weaknesses, and at the same time introduce you to new-found strength. Grace will tell you what you aren’t, while welcoming you to what you can now be. Grace will make you as uncomfortable as you have ever been, while offering you more comfort than you have ever known. Grace will drive you to the end of yourself, while it invites you to fresh starts and new beginnings. Grace will dash your hopes, but never leave you hopeless. Grace will decimate your kingdom as it introduces you to a better King. Grace will expose your blindness as it gives you eyes to see. Grace will make you sadder than you have ever been, while it gives you greater cause for celebration than you have ever known.

Grace enters your life in a moment and will occupy you for eternity. You simply cannot live a productive life in this broken-down world unless you have a practical grasp of the grace you have been given [in Christ].