Gospel Wakefulness

One of the more helpful works I have read concerning gospel-centered Christianity is Jared Wilson‘s Gospel Wakefulness.  Perhaps most insightful to me was Jared’s point that gospel-centeredness can be explained but cannot be taught.  In other words, it requires a grace of the holy spirit.  I do not think this realization moves gospel-centeredness into a neo-gnostic or higher life kind of category.  It simply is the realization that it is God who must work in us in our sanctification.  Thus the phrase Jared Wilson uses is Gospel Wakefulness.

In this video, Jared Wilson explain what Gospel-Wakefulness is.   This is not a short video, by any measure.  But it is worth taking the time – whether in one sitting, or in a series of starts-and-stops.

Two Contents, Two Realities

Francis Schaeffer said: “there are four things which are absolutely necessary if we as Christians are going to meet the need of our age and the overwhelming pressure we are increasingly facing.” These four things are two contents and two realities:

The First Content: Sound Doctrine 

The Second Content: Honest Answers to Honest Questions 

The First Reality: True Spirituality

The Second Reality: The Beauty of Human Relationships

Each link above will take you the substance of the respective  Contents and Realities. I am convinced they are worth consideration.  Why? Because I believe Schaeffer was right when he wrote:

[W]hen there are the two contents and the two realities, we will begin to see something profound happen in our generation.

Appropriating the Justifying Work of Christ

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives.

Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin, that consciously they see little need for justification. Below the surface, however, they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification….drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity…their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.

Few 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, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

~ Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life

My Spiritual EKG

“How are you doing, Spiritually?” That is an important question.

The Great Physician, by both direct and indirect statements in his Word, repeatedly encourages us to examine our hearts. But while many may be  aware that it ought to be our regular practice to take a Spiritual pulse, I suspect that relatively few know how to read the gauges even if they try. Consequently, if we are not certain what we are looking for, it follows that we are not always quite sure how to answer our opening question. So, it seems, the typical response we might give, even to those who may genuinely care, is an awful lot like the responses we give to the stranger on the street, or the hotel clerk we see each morning on vacation, when they ask “How are you today?” “Fine, thanks. And you?” But this is too important a question to simply perpetuate the standard reflex response.

I have benefited from regularly asking myself 10 Questions I learned from Don Whitney and his short but helpful book: 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. Asking myself these questions, or considering observations people have offered about me as they relate to these questions, serves as a good spiritual check-up.

Each of the 10 Questions below is a link to an excerpt of respective chapters from Whitney’s book:

  1. Are you more thirsty for God than ever before?
  2. Are you more and more loving?
  3. Are you more sensitive to and aware of God than ever before?
  4. Are you governed more and more by God’s Word?
  5. Are you concerned more and more with the physical and spiritual needs of others?
  6. Are you more and more concerned with the Church and the Kingdom of God?
  7. Are the disciplines of the Christian life more and more important to you?
  8. Are you more and more aware of your sin?
  9. Are you more and more willing to forgive others?
  10. Are you thinking more and more of heaven and of being with the Lord Jesus?

Pure Puritan

What is your view of the Puritans?  If you are like many people you may not think much of them.

Tim Keller maintains that the Puritans offer us great practical insights. In an article for CCEF, titled Puritan Resources for Biblical Counseling, Keller elaborates on these insights:

  1. The Puritans were committed to the functional authority of the Scripture. For them it was the comprehensive manual for dealing with all problems of the heart.
  2. The Puritans developed a sophisticated and sensitive system of diagnosis for personal problems, distinguishing a variety of physical, spiritual, tempermental and demonic causes.
  3. The Puritans developed a remarkable balance in their treatment because they were not invested in any one ‘personality theory’ other than biblical teaching about the heart.
  4. The Puritans were realistic about difficulties of the Christian life, especially conflicts with remaining, indwelling sin.
  5. The Puritans looked not just at behavior but at underlying root motives and desires. Man is a worshipper; all problems grow out of ‘sinful imagination’ or idol manufacturing.
  6. The Puritans considered the essential spiritual remedy to be belief in the gospel, used in both repentance and the development of proper self-understanding.

Reading the Puritans is not always easy. But thanks to Banner of Truth Trust there are number of Puritan materials offered in revised editions. Many of them are abridged. Most, if not all of them, are translated into more contemporary English. Check out Puritan Paperbacks. These are rich resources for spiritual formation.

Gospel-Centered Lives

From time to time I am asked by some in our church what I mean when I repeatedly declare that we are – and we must be – a Gospel-Centered Church. I think it may be the hyphen that confuses people.

To be “something”-centered is simply to focus on the relation an individual or a church has to a central value.  While there could be any number of things at the center of a persons or organizations values, in our case the point of emphasis is the Gospel (or the Cross).

As for what it means to be Gospel-centered, as an individual or as a church, I don’t think I could answer better than Joe Thorn did in a post titled: Gospel-Centered.  One of the things Joe points out is:

[T]he gospel-centered life is a life where a Christian experiences a growing personal reliance on the gospel that protects him from depending on his own religious performance and being seduced and overwhelmed by idols.

Building a Bridge to Puritan Days

In Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, author Neil Postman suggests that in many ways we have not so much advanced, as a culture, as we have drifted over the years. Postman seems to believe we would do well to return to and reconnect with our philosophical roots and rebuild upon them.

I might say the same thing Spiritually and Theologically.

Like Postman I look to the early-to-mid 18th Century.  But I also go back a little further than he does.  I suggest we return some of our attention to the 16th & 17th Centuries too.

In particular I  believe we benefit by building a bridge back to the Puritans.

Now I realize, for many people the idea of learning from the Puritans is as appealing as black snow.  For some, the very notion seems ugly and distasteful. (The Puritans were… well, puritanical, weren’t they?) But I wish this was not such a prevalent view.  I am not ashamed to admit that the Puritans are part of my spiritual heritage.  In some company I might even refer to myself as a Neo-Puritan.  From my perspective, contemporary disregard for the Puritan is our loss.

I understand some of the stains on the Puritan reputation is deserved. It was earned by a representative few who were… idiots. (i.e. Salem Witch Trials)  But those folks were not a sufficient sample group by which to judge the entire lot.  Sure they held some of the same principles as their Puritan predecessors, but they were a warped expression, at the tail end of a movement, influenced at least as much by superstition and fear as by their Faith traditions.  But because of the antics of these relative few fanatics the whole Puritan tradition has been getting a perpetual bad rap. And I suspect that mistaken notions about the Puritans will endure, at least for as long as our perceptions continue to be influenced by erroneous and distorted PR offered by such sources as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter.

J.I. Packer, in an essay titled Why We Need the Puritans, which is also the Introduction to his book A Quest for Godliness, outlines a handful of lessons contemporary Christians would do well to learn from these besmirched people of the past:

  • Integration of Daily Life
  • Quality of Spiritual Experience
  • Passion for Effective Action
  • Program for Family Stability
  • Sense of Human Worth
  • Ideal of Church Renewal

A great introduction to the Puritans has been provided by the folks at The Resurgence. They have compiled a series of short articles, by Winfield Bevins, under the title Lessons from the Puritans:

Even if your impression of the Puritans has been shaped by Miller or Hawthorne, I hope you will give some consideration to these short introductory essays.  I am confidnet you will be pleasantly surprised by the positive legacy these folks have left us.

7 Maxims of Repentance

Jesus said:

“This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  (Luke 26.46-47)

Seemingly few recognize that repentance is part of the message of the Great Commission.  But that is clearly what Luke records Jesus as saying.  Not only is a call to repentance connected to the forgiveness of our sin, but I am convinced that repentance is one of the ways in which we express “obedience” to everything Jesus commanded us. As Martin Luther postulated in the first of his 95 Theses:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He willed that the whole life of believers be lived out in repentance.

Yet, just as seemingly few are aware that repentace is part of the Great Commisson, seemingly fewer realize repentance should be a way of life for the Christian. Building upon Luther’s observation, contemporary pastor/theologian Sinclair Ferguson declares:

“According to Scripture, the Christian Life is repentance from beginning to end! So long as the believer is at the same time righteous and yet a sinner, it can be no other way.”

In his masterful book on the subject, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, Richard Owen Roberts offers a series of lists, including 7 Maxims of Repentance:

  1. True Repentance is a Gift of God
  2. True Repentance is NOT a Single Act but an Ongoing and Continual Attitude
  3. True Repentance is NOT Merely Turning From What You Have Done but From What You ARE
  4. True Repentance is Not What you Do for yourself but What You do for God
  5. True Repentance is Not Merely of the Fruits of Sin but of the Very Roots
  6. True Repentance is Not Secret but Open
  7. True Repentance is Both Negative and Positive

While I would wholeheartedly commend the reading of Roberts’ book, merely pondering this list will itself offer some rewarding insights as to the nature and benefits of repentance.  While some maxims are more immediately understood than others, all are discernable.

10 Gospel-centered Questions


Here are 10 questions to ask yourself – and maybe those few closest to you – that help uncover rivals of Christ as the functional savior of your heart:

  1. What are you desiring more than anything else?
  2. What do you find yourself day dreaming or fantasizing about?
  3. What lies are you subtly believing that undermine the truth of the gospel?
  4. Are you astonished with the gospel?
  5. In what ways have you recently made much of yourself and little of God?
  6. Is technology stealing attention from your family?
  7. Is work replacing your spouse’s place in your heart?
  8. Where do your thoughts drift to when you enter a social setting?
  9. What fears are paralyzing your heart from enjoying God?
  10. What consumes your thoughts when you have alone time?

Notice that many of these questions assumes some level of guilt. Others are simply good guages of our priorities.  That’s what makes them good gospel-centered questions – questions that continually keep our hearts centered on the gospel.  

Remember the gospel has two aspects – one positive, one negative.  Paraprasing Jack Miller, the gospel reminds us:

  • You are much greater sinner than you would ever dare admit, even to yourself.
  • You are loved far more by God than you would ever dare dream.

Believing the gospel frees us to admit our flaws, and drives us to explore the love of God demonstrated in the Cross of Christ. So go ahead, ask yourself the above questions.

Ecstasy & Delight

Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification.

We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration, and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heart-warming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God. The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones…

The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers…

By the enjoyment of the love of Christ in the heart of a believer, we mean an experience of the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us” (Romans 5.5)… because the Lord has made himself accessible to us in the means of grace, it is our duty and privilege to seek this experience from Him in these means till we are made the joyful partakers of it.

– John Flavel (1630-1691)