I just want to say thank you on behalf of me and my wife. You’ve been faithful and it’s really impacted our lives. I don’t know how to say thank you appropriately. I’ve recently been listening to some of Dan Fuller’s talks from a while back when he was doing a talk on sanctification by faith alone. I’m just trying to think about it. Could you elaborate a little bit on that whole concept of us being dependent on Christ and the Holy Spirit, and how that works out with us on a daily basis, seeking to see and savor Jesus Christ?
Sanctification by faith alone is something I would want to affirm if it was understood correctly. And it is basically what I said concerning 1 Peter 4:11. So day by day, moment by moment, when you’re facing something you must do, like right now with Q&A, it’s something we need to consider. The reason I prayed was to live out that APTAT thing. Because I feel like there’s enough flesh in me and there’s enough old man in me that if I don’t reign me in here and try to get God on me, sustaining me, then I will just start to blab away and it won’t be helpful. So that’s a way of saying at this moment, I should be relying upon the ever-arriving river of future grace and in relying upon it. I should be freed from pride since it’s coming from him, not me. I should be freed from fear of man because he’s going to help me. He loves me and cares for me.
In being freed from pride and fear, I should be bold in my witness and my answers. Sanctification happens by reliance upon the arrival of free and sovereign grace. So the only qualification I would make from what I used to say in regard to that is every time that I trust some work of God now to help me, I want to make sure that he knows, I know, and anybody else who’s listening knows that I’m trusting him as a crucified, promise-purchasing redeemer. I’m not just trusting any old vague arrival of God’s kindness. It’s always faith in a redeemer who, because he bought me with his blood, is now able in justice to give mercy and help to a sinner like me. So I don’t ever want to drop the redeemer piece, the mediator piece, the sacrifice piece, the propitiation piece, the justification piece. That never goes out.
You had mentioned briefly earlier a little bit about a conversation you had had regarding this tragedy at Virginia Tech, and I was just wondering if you could speak a little bit more about how to interact with an unbeliever while being faithful to Scripture about God’s sovereignty, and yet helping them to see the grace of Christ through that kind of a terrible tragedy.
Just to clarify, I collapsed the events. I did not get a call about Blacksburg. I got a call about the tsunami. That’s the one I was narrating. I’ve been on the road ever since Blacksburg happened. Here’s the most significant thing I would say to an unbeliever who is calling my view of God’s sovereignty into question, wondering how that can be good news for the families that just lost kids, for example. And believe me, I’m a pastor. I have led many, many people through these kinds of tragedies. We have dozens of people in our church right now who have horrific suffering in their lives. So I’m not talking academically out of the blue here.
What I would say is that I realize there is a tension in your heart, in my heart, when we say God was in control when your kid was shot. I know that has a stress point to it, but let me just ask you about the alternative, because if you try to rescue the goodness of God or the justice of God by saying God Almighty could not have given that guy a heart attack, or any number of ways, is he the kind of God that can now help you through this loss? Is he the kind of God who can now help you with all the brokenness that’s going to come into your life because of this, a big empty bedroom, an empty boat, and an empty motorcycle for all these years? What you need now is the very God that you’re about to throw away.
That’s what I said at 9/11 and that’s what I would say about the tsunami. All of you right now who are in a crisis and you’re about to have a major loss or some major problem and you’re wondering why God would allow this. Why would God not step in here? If you throw him away, the very God you need to sustain you for the next years, you’ve just thrown away. So it won’t work to sacrifice his power to rescue his goodness. A better solution is to say, right now if you ask me why this happened, I would say, I don’t know the details of why it happened, but I could look at the Bible and probably give you five or six general purposes of God in all suffering that he allows and ordains. So can we just trust him?
Then you might go to a Bible illustration. I’m just thinking about how to talk. You might go to a Bible illustration like Joseph and his brothers. His brothers sell him into slavery and the poor kid, what is he, 17 years old when this happens? For 13 years he has no clue what’s going on. Not a clue. He’s being thrown into prison. He’s being lied about. He’s far from home. He’s a 17 year old kid going to be 30, and God doesn’t give him a clue as far as we know what’s up. So here you are, you’ve just lost your kid or whatever. What’s up? I said, it might take you 13 years to know, or 30, or until you’re dead, but Joseph was being prepared to be the King of Egypt to rescue the people of God, and he didn’t know it. It was just so hard. He didn’t know it. God is always good. He’s always doing something good in and through the sin of a murderer and even through the suffering of those who take the hit.
Satan has been disarmed and the God of this world has blinded their eyes in 2 Corinthians 4. If God is sovereign and Christ has authority over all things, how and why do we pray and do battle against a disarmed Satan? Or, as you like to rephrase your own questions, why does God tell us to pray against and fight against Satan when he only does what God grants him permission to do? What are we fighting against?
It is right to resist all evil, and all evil is permitted — and I would say since he always permits with design — ordained by God. That’s the tension you’re feeling. You’re saying, okay, God permits, or even ordains, all that comes to pass and then you’re telling us over here there should be some resistance to some of it. So why isn’t that resisting God? I think that’s the question because God ordains that we resist what he ordains. I mean this is where the Bible takes us. If I had been Dan, one of the brothers of Joseph, and I saw the other brothers about to sell him into slavery, I think I should have stood up to him and resisted it. I should have said, “No, the Bible says, ‘Don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t be unloving. This is wrong to send our brother into Egypt. We should resist this.” And he should have. It would’ve been sin not to, and yet it was God’s purpose.
Or at the death of Jesus, God was clearly designing the death of Jesus, right? He was crucified for us. He planned it before the foundation of the world. He was a lamb slain, as it were, before the foundation of the world. That was sin and we should resist sin. We should try to keep sin from happening. So don’t draw the conclusion that since God ordained something that something shouldn’t be resisted. It is not sin in God to will that sin come to pass, and therefore it is not sin to resist the sin that God wills to come to pass. If God wills that a car accident happened, it’s not wrong to try to fix the signs that might have been the occasion of it, and things like that. It’s a heavy question and a good question. That’s my best shot.
I was wondering if I could get you to basically lay out briefly your model of sanctification. I think it’d be helpful for me just in light of how you are such a strong proponent of Christian Hedonism and religious affections.
That gives me an indication to bring in a text I left out. My model of sanctification I passed through so briefly at second Corinthians 3:18, which says, “Beholding the glory of the Lord we are being changed.” So let’s get in there for just two or three minutes. We’ll go to Matthew 5. I am very eager to understand what Jesus means when he says:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
That’s sanctification, right? It’s doing good deeds in such a way that people glorify God. That’s my structural model of what I want to happen in my life. I want to do so many good deeds that other people will see and not give me glory, but God glory. And the question is, how in the world can that happen? How can you do good deeds and God get glory in people’s minds?
So I trace the train of thought back up from Matthew 5:14–16. Just before it, he says:
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
So you have salt and you have light — tasty salt and bright light. People are seeing and giving glory to God through your good deeds, so far so good. But what’s the light? What’s the salt? You may say, “Well, it’s good deeds.” But he says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds . . .” That won’t work because there are a lot of people doing good deeds and God’s getting no glory for it. Lots of unbelievers do good deeds and lots of believers do good deeds, and God’s not being praised for it. What’s the difference? What turns good deeds into light that gets him glory, and what are the good deeds that only get me glory?
And I’m just going to move back up. I want to follow Jesus’s thinking, and I’m back up to Matthew 5:11–12 now. He says:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad . . .
There’s Christian Hedonism. There he is talking crazy again. People are reviling you, slandering you, and saying all kinds of evil against you falsely. And he says, “Be happy! Be glad! Rejoice!” Then he gives the reason, “For great is your reward in heaven . . .” (Matthew 5:12).
Now, that’s Jesus’ prayer coming true in John 17:24. He says, “I pray that they might be with me where I am to behold my glory.” Jesus is the reward, seeing the glory of God. So my interpretation of the light and the salt is that what makes some good deeds give God glory is that they’re done in the midst of pressure, strain, suffering, persecution, slander, abuse, and all the while we are not retaliating, not murmuring, not complaining, but rejoicing because Christ has become everything to us. The world will look at that and say, “I don’t get it. You’re supposed to be really mad right now. You’re supposed to be resentful and you seem to get your joy from someplace other than this present slanderous circumstance. Where are you getting it?” And God just might get the glory. But what that means is my paradigm of sanctification is that my energy must be devoted not to list keeping, but to getting my heart fixed on the reward. Someone should write a book on heaven or something like that.
Get your eyes fixed on Christ and have your heart so satisfied in him that you can say with Paul:
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:17).
That is, I look to the risen Christ as my satisfaction. And then you’re released from fear, you’re released from greed, you’re released from pride, and your hands are filled up with good deeds in the midst of persecution or difficulty. And people scratch their heads and say, “What makes this guy tick?” And they ask a reason for the hope that is in you, and you’re into giving God the glory. So that’s my pattern for how God gets glory. I get changed, all rooted in my heart’s being transformed so that it savors Christ who is my great reward.
Earlier you were talking about how God plans everything — he plans our life and everything that goes on in our life. But one thing that I was confused about is you said that God plans sin. If God plans sin, who’s responsible for sin? It’s not my own prerogative to commit the sin, who’s responsible?
You are responsible for your sin. You will be punished for your sin. You’re accountable for your sin. That’s the answer. Now your question is, how can that be? Because I assume you agree with me, but you may not agree that God planned it or ordained it. I’ll tell you why I believe God plans and ordains sin. It’s because I read in the Bible, for example — and there are many texts of this nature — that there is a book before the foundation of the world called “the book of life of the lamb who is slain,” in which are written all the redeemed (Revelation 13:8).
There it is. Before the creation of the world, God planned the death of his Son. Why? Sin. So it has to be sin otherwise his plan is stupid. And since it’s God, before anything happens he is planning this. This is important, as the apex of the revelation of his glory according to Ephesians 1:6. Therefore, since his goal in creation is to manifest most fully the revelation of his glory, there must be suffering. There must be sin so that Christ can be crucified and the grace of God can be most fully demonstrated. All that is to say why I believe what creates the problem, namely that God is sovereign over sin as well as over righteousness. So here’s the solution to the problem, and it’s only a solution if you believe it and handle it, namely, it is not sinful in God to will that there be sin.
If you cannot handle that, if that breaks the circuits in your brain, then you won’t go with me to say he’s sovereign over all sin, and I wouldn’t want you to go with me because you would in your own soul have to indict God then, wouldn’t you? You’d have to make God blameworthy and you should never do that. Don’t follow John Piper into making God blameworthy. I’m not making him blameworthy. I have a category. I believe I get it from the Bible. I’m forced to say that God is sovereign over all things including sin, and God is totally holy. There is no darkness in him at all. And the Bible teaches all sinners are responsible for their behavior. So I’d add to the paradoxical presuppositions in my head that God so governs all things, including your choices, in such a way as not to diminish in the least your responsibility.
Some people say that’s nonsense. I think calling it nonsense is a philosophical presupposition brought in from outside. It’s not found in the Bible. The Bible assumes everywhere that God governs all things, including your choices, yet such that you never become less responsible for your choices. And you don’t need to understand that. I’m happy to plead mystery at that point. Maybe you say, “I don’t get that.” Okay, I don’t get it either. It’s just true.
Now, Jonathan Edwards wrote the book Freedom of the Will. If you’re a philosophical type and you want an answer to how that works, nobody has tried harder than Jonathan Edwards to figure out how God can be sovereign over all things, including our choices, and I can be totally responsible for my choices and bear the weight of them forever. That’s Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will. That’s a huge question. The hardest, biggest question in the universe is what you just asked. So don’t expect me to give the last word on it.
I love God’s word tremendously and I enjoy seeing and savoring it. What hurts me the most is what you touched on earlier about the nominal Christian, the card-carrying, “I-got-saved-at-a-Billy-Graham-crusade,” “I-go-to-church-every-Sunday” Christian. But when I sit down and talk with this person about God through his word, it’s ho hum. He asks, “How much longer are we going to do this? When can we move on?” So how do you get the nominal Christian who may be at best a weak Christian, and at worst a false Christian, to see and savor God?
I said the other question is the hardest. It’s philosophically the hardest. This is experientially the hardest. It’s the how question. Take my son Abraham. For four years he was walking away from the Lord, and stiff-arming everything I believe. And you sit down time after time at Pizza Hut as he shows up in town. He’s just doing everything in the world to kill himself, to ruin his life. And you sit down and you share your heart, tears roll down your face, and it’s blank. It’s totally blank. Now, he was a professed unbeliever when that was happening, but I never felt so helpless in my life. I absolutely never felt so helpless. You will feel helpless to sit across the street from somebody you love, not only because they’re human, but because they’re your son and can’t get through to them. He’s back, which is a wonderful, glorious, precious thing.
But you’re talking about professing believers, and that complicates matters. The answer is multilayered. You pray for wisdom about what might touch this person. You can go the negative route from Revelation 3:16, which says, “Would that you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm, Jesus is going to spit you out of his mouth.” We need to warn nominal Christians that it’s serious, to be spit out of the mouth of Jesus means to perish. And he does not like lukewarmness. He hates it. That would be the negative route. The positive route, which is where our emphasis should fall in preaching and leadership, is just to constantly display his superior worth. That’s why I’m here. I’m hoping there are a lot of people like you just described in this room and they won’t be like that anymore because of the last two hours.
If the Holy Spirit came, that could happen. So have those two things. You have the carrot and you have the stick, and they’re both in the Bible, big time. There are all kinds of warnings in the Bible.
Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).
That’s spoken to professing believers. And over here:
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Isn’t that a beautiful thing? He’s saying, “Come to me. I’ve got wine, I’ve got milk, I’ve got bread. What are you stuffing your face with a broken cistern for?” Maybe they would see it. But those are the two things we do. We lavish them with the promises and plead with them to awaken. And then I guess the third thing would be to pray like crazy because you can’t do it. I mean I pray for myself mainly about that. I have my little IOUS acronym. I is “incline my heart to your testimonies” (Psalm 119:36). I get up in the morning, I go to my Bible, I open my Bible, and guess what? I don’t feel much savoring going on.
I’m a night person. I hate mornings. I would like to skip mornings. Just get me from 6:00 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then I’ll be spiritual. So I have to do my devotions between 6:00 a.m. to 10 a.m. So I’m looking at this page and I’m pleading that I won’t be that person. I say, “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain” (Psalm 119:36). O stands for, “Open my eyes that I may hold wonderful things out of every word” (Psalm 119:18). U is, “Unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). S is, “Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love” (Psalm 90:14). I’m pleading with God for those four things virtually every day of my life because my bucket leaks.
This is another how question. It’s a lot like his question, but how can we as Christians help those who are not lukewarm, but at times they’re hot, at times they’re cold. They’re hot and they’re going to the Mormons. They’re running on emotions. What can we as Christians say? What verse can we point them to? Where’s the root of that problem?
There are lots of roots, but that one phrase you said was “they’re running on emotions.” Did I hear that right? They’re running on emotions so they’re up, down, up, down, because their emotions are so sporadic. What I want to do in general — and there may be all kinds of personality reasons, family reasons, and hormonal reasons — I think what tends to make the person have fewer humps and less aberrations is to build a solid theology into their lives. You don’t want to say, “Stop being emotional.” That’ll kill a church. Don’t say, “Everybody stop being emotional. Let’s all just be theologians who don’t feel at all, that just think.” What would happen? That would just be awful. We want the emotions to be governed, controlled, and guided. So I would say don’t just give them a verse. If you want to give them a verse, give them 2 Timothy 2:7.
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
You think and God gives. So you want to tell them, “Think!” but they’re not thinkers so they don’t even know what you mean. That sounds so boring and so life-taking to them, so you need to sit with them over a good book. Maybe it’s Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. We’re talking fiber. We have to have fiber in the tree. And you just read it with them.
My question is about prayer and seeing and savoring Jesus Christ. I’ve listened to your resources on prayer in the past and the way that you defined prayer was asking God for things, which is kind of a general statement. Do we just ask God and plead to have understanding and then look to the word, or is there a place for communion with God and being still before God? You’re just hearing from him, not apart from the word, but with that being the underlying context and just communing with God in a more contemplative way.
Absolutely. If I said what you said exclusively, I made a mistake. Prayer is not just asking. What I would say is prayer is talking to God. You may say, “I’m sorry.” That’s prayer. You may say, “I praise you.” That’s prayer. You may say, “I thank you.” That’s prayer. And you may say, “I need help.” That’s prayer. So at least those four things are involved, but it’s not prayer to be quiet and listen. That’s not wrong. It’s just not prayer. I’m just clarifying the terms. So yes, we should do that. We should get up in the morning and begin to read. And our prayers should not just be, “I need help with a sermon,” or, “I need help with my marriage,” or whatever. But rather you say, “God, I’m going to go to your word. Show me yourself, talk to me in my heart. Talk to me. Reveal to me things about you that will slay me if they need to, encourage me if they need to, convict me if they need to. I’m yours. I want you and me to have fellowship right now over your word by your Spirit.” Is that what you’re asking?
During your talk you used the word gospel very frequently. That flies in the face really of a lot of things the emergent churches will teach with regards to story and a holistic message. And I know this is similar to the story of the girlfriend who preferred the woods over Scripture. I wanted to hear you speak to what the gospel is quantitatively, and how it can be communicated versus just blurring the lines with anything that’s true.
Okay, this will take more than a minute, but not too many more. I will summarize my understanding of the gospel in a way that I think may not be adequate to answer all the pieces of your question, but it will provide you with some categories to ponder. There are five elements to the gospel. If any one of them disappears, there’s no good news anymore.
Number one: there’s an event. Christ died for our sins and rose again (1 Corinthians 15:3). Take that away, and there’s no gospel. I don’t care how much we talk about the kingdom, or loving each other, or having community, or having conversations. There’s no gospel if the event goes.
Number two: that gospel, that event, achieved astonishing things. I gave seven of them in my talk. It took away the wrath of God, provided my righteousness, covered my sins, and slew the devil. There are seven of them that I listed. So just think of the category event. It’s the achievement of the event. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” those seven things were done. They happened.
Number three: there is a free offer to faith alone, not works. And if that gets muddied, there’s no gospel. The achievement has to be received by faith alone. If you try to do it with works and get this achievement by works, there’s no gospel. So you have an event necessary, you have an achievement necessary, and you have a faith offer. It’s for you free, take it. It’s a gift. If that gift dimension and that free receiving, faith dimension goes, there’s no gospel.
Number four: the application in my life personally and experientially to these achievements. He bought the forgiveness of my sins, but I’m not forgiven until I believe. When this faith piece happens, I now have union with Christ, and in union with Christ, his righteousness becomes mine, the Holy Spirit becomes mine, forgiveness becomes mine, the hope of eternal life or the presence of eternal life becomes mine, and I experience salvation. That’s the application piece.
Number five is the last one and it’s the most important one because it’s the goal of all the others. What’s all that about? I fear that many of us preachers and gospel tellers stop there because justification is such good news, propitiation is such good news, forgiveness is such good news, and eternal life is such good news, and we just stop. And all of those are means to an end. First Peter 3:18 says that he suffered once, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. I’m justified so that I can get to God. I’m forgiven so that I can get to God. I have eternal life, which is fellowship with God. Those are my five pieces. That’s the way I would summarize the gospel. Only I passed over the seven biggies because I already did them in the talk.