Monday, October 29, 2012


What comes to mind when someone mentions the word faith? A synonym for religion? Belief in God? If you're a Christian, Hebrews 11:1?

It's not uncommon for a word to hold a variety of nuanced definitions. Love would be a classic example. So the goal here is not to try and pigeonhole the meaning of faith. But one poor definition is gaining popularity in the psyche of culture: "belief without evidence."

Many pit faith against fact, as if faith were an ugly second cousin to the supermodel of our modern, scientific age. However, faith is not the opposite of reason, logic and thought. Faith is an expectation--the standard model of hope.

When compared to the scientific method, there is actually a lot of similarity to genuine faith. The hallmark of science is repeatability of measurable phenomenon. The apple falls every time you drop it. As counterintuitive as it sounds, faith works the same way. Many balk at this notion because they cannot test God [Matt 4:7]. Of course, this is the fundamental problem with human nature. Because God will not do our bidding, because we can't domesticate him, because he will not bow down and worship us, we reject and refuse him. This does not mean faith is irrational; it means that God is sovereign.

Even though we may not be able to experiment on God and manipulate outcomes to our expectation, he is more reliable than the very laws of nature he created. He has revealed that he does not change: he is the same yesterday, today and forever.

God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
[Numbers 23:19]

God is faithful. We can trust God's Word; we can trust his promises. Everything God has spoken has come to pass, and faith is the expectation that God will keep his Word in the future too. As we observe the history of his action, we gain a confidence that God will right all wrongs [Rev 21:4], Christ will return [Matt 24:30], and anyone who believes in him will have eternal life [John 3:16].

Consider a non-religious analog. Everybody expects tomorrow...because of yesterday. Yet the future is not here that we can touch it, taste it or measure it in any way. But that does not mean that a belief in tomorrow is belief without evidence. Having faith in God is no more unreasonable than believing that tomorrow is coming.

We see everything that God has done: the covenants he's made, the prophesies that have come true, the incarnation of God himself. We see all that and trust the promises he makes about the future--about our tomorrow.

Christians are not called to turn off their brains. No, we get to use them with joyful hope that thinking actually has real meaning and an eternal impact. We use our brains knowing God will resurrect them and keep us in relationship with him forever.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Vicodin : Doctor Shopping :: Unrepenting Affirmation : ?

Russell Moore:
Law enforcement officials use the term “doctor shopping” to refer to the way those addicted to prescription pain medications seek to avert accountability...The truth is, there’s a certain type of personality that doesn’t want accountability, but affirmation...When the pastor tells him the opposite of what he wants to hear, he leaves and goes to find a pastor or counselor who will. And this goes on and on. 
This isn’t being shepherded. It’s the same old autonomy of the self. 
Sadly, there are too many ministers of the gospel out there willing to empower this sort of behavior. If you have a church member who has been warned or disciplined by another pastor or church, you have a responsibility to investigate what’s going on...Your affirmation of an unrepentant and fugitive-from-discipline church member isn’t an act of love or mercy. It’s an act of hatred. You are empowering the unrepentant to “bear the name brother” or sister (1 Cor. 5:11), to assuage a conscience that should be convicted by the Spirit. If so, you’d be better off just prescribing an addict another round of Percocet.
Read the whole thing:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pray as though Everything Depended on God

Pray as though everything depended on God, and act as if everything depended on you.
--Source Debatable1

This quote appears to be popular in the church today. Though every time I hear it, alarm bells ring in my head. Even very good, modern commentaries2 carry the phrase. Is it biblical? Is it gospel-centered?

There are two elements of the saying that all Christians should appreciate. First, nobody should have a problem with the first half, "Pray as though everything depended on God." That is the way Jesus taught us to pray. In Matthew 6:8, Jesus says that the Father already knows what we need before we ask, and in Matthew 6:25-34, we're told that God cares for us and will provide for our temporal needs. Indeed, everything does depend on God, and God is dependable. Second, Christians ought to work hard. Trust in God has never been a valid excuse for laziness. Paul addressed a problem in the Thessalonian church where some became idle as they anticipated Christ's return, but they became leeches on the rest. So the apostle said, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" [2 Thess 3:10]. The whole context of 2 Thessalonians 3 is helpful to understand the perspective with which a hopeful Christian should work.

However, and this is a big however, "acting as if everything depended on you" goes against the grain of everything the gospel of Jesus teaches. It is the self-justifier who lives as if everything depends on him. He believes he is righteous before God because of everything he's done. By nature, man does not have a problem acting as if everything depends on him, but it is from this mindset that we all must be saved!

Jesus has made it clear that the kingdom of God belongs to those who do not depend on themselves [Mark 10:14-15 vs Mark 10:17-31]. We cannot bring anything to God and earn eternal life. Physician Jesus did not come for those who think they are well, but for those who know they are sick and need to be healed [Mark 2:17]. God does not justify the self-righteous, but sinners who confess their need for mercy [Luke 18:9-14]. The gospel of Jesus Christ is that all who have faith in him and his work--in his substitutionary, sacrificial work on the cross--and cry out to him as Lord and Savior will be saved [Rom 10:9-10]. The gospel of Jesus Christ is that God is the one who saves us through his Son; we cannot and do not save ourselves.

In light of the gospel, I propose a change to the saying. The new one should read:
Pray as though everything depended on God, and act as if everything depended on God.
The key verse to understanding the partnership of God and man in labor is Philippians 2:12-13, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." The Holy Spirit lives in the temple of the believer's heart after they are justified by faith [1 Cor 3:16], and it his God himself who works within his elect to accomplish his will according to his good pleasure. Given this truth, the believer works, in an outward fashion, what God has already done inside him. Yes, we labor, but not outside the strength, will or work of God.

So if we are to work hard under either perspective, then, what's the difference? Primarily it's one of faith. We not only want to seem as though we live by faith, but we want to actually live by faith--knowing and trusting that God is sovereign over all actions--even our own. The original saying, "act as if everything depended on you" communicates a distrust of God's ability to accomplish his will. But we need to act "as if" God really is sovereign. As mere mortals, we never know how God might use us to accomplish his will, and ultimately we are but a single thread in the great tapestry of his purposes. Another important difference in perspective is within the area of humility. If we believe that our accomplishments are "as if" our own, then the temptation toward pride in success (and depression in apparent failure) will engulf us. But there is no room for boasting in anything we've done.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord" [1 Cor 1:26-31].
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ [Col 3:23-24].
Pray as though everything depended on God, and act as though everything depended on God.

Update 8/7/13: Here is a great answer from Pastor John about a related subject.

1It is often attributed to Augustine of Hippo, but an electronic search through his writings does not reveal it, and other researchers have not been able to point to a particular source. Some attribute it to Ignatius, but his quote boils down to something subtly different, "Pray as if everything depended on you, and act as if everything depended on God." It is probably a conjunction and corruption of two ancient ideas dressed up to appear as if it has biblical origins.

2Within my own library, I discovered that the following commentaries used the phrase: NIV Application Commentary (2 Samuel 10), Bible Exposition Commentary (Acts 3 & 4), and even an old commentary called the Pulpit Commentary (Mark 1 & Romans 12).

Much to my chagrin, I found that Spurgeon used this saying in one of his sermons. "If I am a worker, I must look to God for the result, but then I must also use all the means. In fact, the Christian should work as if all depended upon him, and pray as if it all depended upon God. He should be always nothing in his own estimation; yet he should be one of those gloriously active nothings of which God makes great use, for he treats the things that are not as though they were, and gets glory out of them." [Spurgeon, C. H. (1998). Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 17 (electronic ed.). Albany, OR: Ages Software.]

Monday, October 1, 2012

Heart Wound

Now it pleased God to send Mr. Whitefield into this land; and my hearing of his preaching at Philadelphia, like one of the Old apostles, and many thousands flocking to hear him preach the Gospel, and great numbers were converted to Christ.

When I saw Mr. Whitefield come upon the Scaffold he looked almost angelical, a young, slim slender youth before some thousands of people with a bold undaunted countenance, and my hearing how God was with him every where as he came along it solumnized my mind, and put me into a trembling fear before he began to preach; for he looked as if he was Cloathed with authority from the Great God, and a sweet solemn solemnity sat upon his brow. And my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound; by God's blessing my old foundation was broken up, and I saw that my righteousness would not save me.
-Nathan Cole
Ezekiel 36:26

Ephesians 2:8-9