Speaker Panel

Plenary Session — 2015 Conference for Pastors

Where Sin Increased: The Rebellion of Man and the Abundance of Grace

David Mathis: Let me give just a brief word about where we’re heading. These are questions from you. These are very good and there’s a lot of them. Thank you so much. For those who have submitted questions, we’ll try to keep the pace moving here and get through as many of them as we can. I know we can’t get through all of them.

Some theologians teach that a believer possesses a dual nature, the sin nature and the new nature. However, we are now in Christ and not in Adam. We’re a new creation in Christ. The old has passed away, the new has come, but sin operates through the members of our flesh. Could you please clarify this issue for me? Is it a matter of semantics, or is it crucial to understanding who we are now in Christ?

John Piper: Well, I’ll just do the best I can. The word nature is probably ambiguous, but biblically speaking, I have died and there is a new John Piper, the new John Piper is the John Piper who believes, who sees Christ as beautiful. His eyes have been opened, his rebellion has been broken. The Holy Spirit is inhabiting me and transforming me. That wasn’t there before. The Holy Spirit wasn’t there before. And so, I was dead. I was totally dead before and now I am alive. Nevertheless, there’s this principle force of sin indwelling me, and you quoted Galatians 5:16–18, which says that the flesh is against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. And Sam said there would be no flesh in heaven. He didn’t say there’s no flesh now.

I’m just totally with you in your perplexity. The New Testament talks both ways. You have died. You’re dead, and it also says, “Reckon yourself dead,” and “Put to death what is earthly in you.” If you were dead with no qualification that would be an irrelevant command. And so, we understand the tension. So I would say that decisively, we’re dead; decisively, the battle is over; decisively, we have been glorified. In God’s mind this thing is done. It is sure that the new person is the real person who will last forever. And yet the old is there.

Maybe the confusing thing I said last night is that Christ died for us and we died in him, and now, every quivering of the corpse of sin you put to death, lest he prove not to be a corpse but alive, and you dead. That’s a complex sentence I thought about 15 minutes about, trying to get at what whoever wrote that is asking. It’s a corpse. My sin is dead. I am dead. And the way I confirm that, live in that, appropriate that, and reckon that to be true is by putting every quivering of the corpse to death so as to prove he’s dead. And if I abandon that killing, it may prove to be the case that it’s not a corpse but rather that I’m a corpse and I’m bound for hell. So that’s my effort, which may not help at all. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just as confusing.

Sam Storms: No, I like it. I agree. I don’t like the word nature. I think it is ambiguous and misleading. I think the issue is one of our fundamental identity. My core identity as a born again person. I’m a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), but I’m a new creation in Christ who struggles with passions of the flesh. First Peter 2:11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh.”

So somebody might say, “Well, could collectively those passions be called a nature?” Maybe, but I would rather not use that. I would rather say, as you said, “I’m a new creature in Christ with lingering passions that are the product of this energy, this impulse, these urges Paul talks about as a law, as a principle in Romans 7.” So again, I don’t like the word nature. Maybe somebody else does and you can defend it.

Steve Childers: To me, I have been most greatly influenced by John Owen on this topic, and his distinguishing difference as an English speaker, an English writer, are the terms dominance and influence when he does his exposition and exegesis of Romans 6. And what he says takes place is the domineering in the life of the believer. The domineering power of sin is broken. Sin’s influence will be with you until your dying death, your dying breath. The problem is, to paraphrase Owen, preachers today do not understand the distinguishing difference in Romans 6, so they usually promise too much or they promise too little. To promise too much is to promise freedom from sin’s influence. The gospel does not promise that to the believer. To promise too little, in Owen’s perspective, is not to promise freedom from sin’s dominance over their lives now. And to me, that paradigm and that view of Romans 6 has been transformative.

Bryan Chapell: I would not disagree with anything that’s been said. I would rather emphasize why the distinction is important, because that was part of the question as I understood it. Why is it important to recognize that we are fundamentally different than we were, that we are new. The reason why that is so necessary to know is that it’s actually part of Christian power and hope. Sam, you referred to it in your talk just in passing. The old Augustinian distinction is that we were once not able not to sin. That is not true of us. We are fundamentally different creatures now. Now, because “greater is he that’s in me than he that’s in the world” (1 John 4:4), and now because of Galatians 2:20, that I’m dead, but Christ is alive in me, what is fundamentally different about me now is that I am able not to sin. It’s not perfectionism, but there is a fundamental new power that no longer can I or Satan claim, “You can’t help it.” I have power in knowing that I am a new creation so that I have hope that tomorrow does not have to be like yesterday, that real change is possible.

What gives me that hope and allows me to combat Satan’s hopelessness is to know that I’m a fundamental new creation, so I can appeal to that when the temptations of the flesh come and I say, “It’s just the way I’m made, I can’t help it.” Now I say, “Actually that’s not true, because by the gospel truth I have faith that I am a new creation,” and that’s actually part of my gospel help. So I appreciated the way you referred to that old Augustinian distinction, which is reminding us that we are fundamentally different than we were in our unregenerate state.

Conrad Mbewe: Well, because I come from a background where English is not my first language, I probably would make the mistake of using the word nature because I’m thinking in terms of two realities. And I think that’s the point that every speaker has made here that there are these two realities in a believer. But I do appreciate the fact that using the word nature could be misleading, especially for those who really want precision with respect to words. So that would be my answer.

Steve Childers: I would just add one very quick follow up. If I’m hearing the question correctly, I think that is a very good and common question. It presents a kind of spiritual schizophrenia in people who think, “Who am I? Am I the old man or the new man?” They’re not even seeing it in terms of a bigger picture. I would refer people to the collected works of John Murray where we see this paradigm that says you are not two people. You are one person, and the word he uses is that you had a propensity only to evil. Now that the Spirit of God indwells you, you (one person) have a propensity for righteousness. You have a propensity for holiness. Please don’t think you are two people. This is the classic counter-actionist theory. B.B. Warfield, in his work on perfectionism — and this is controversial — goes so far as to say reject the counteractionist view that what might be called that “new nature” and that “old nature,” that the old nature is untouched through all of sanctification.

B.B. Warfield challenges that with 2 Corinthians 3, and he uses a word nobody uses called extirpation. And what he says is that the old nature before glorification is like a fire burning under metal, and it’s just progressively from glory to glory to glory, making that person more holy. So the concept that the sin nature is just as sinful and mean and wicked at the end, Warfield says, is not true. It’s just a different area where you’re battling as much with influence. Now that could raise a controversy.

David Mathis: Anything more to say, Bryan?

Bryan Chapell: No. Steve covered it.

David Mathis: Let’s go to the next one. How much victory over sin is realistic in this life?

Conrad Mbewe: Perhaps I’d like to answer that question from two perspectives. First of all, it is from those that are related to the Christian. There’s no doubt about the fact that people really appreciate someone making spiritual progress. For instance, a wife appreciates that her Christian is making real spiritual progress. Relative to where we were once upon a time, I can see a more godly husband in many ways. So it’s the same with a pastoral team, an eldership, and so on. You can see growth that is undeniable. So the sky is the limit in that sense.

But I also want to speak about it from the context of the believer himself. And I use the picture of light. The more light you have, the more you see your dark spots. In other words, for the believer himself, you tend to see more that needs to be dealt with by God, the Holy Spirit, in your life, the more you grow in your Christian life.

I think it’s in that sense that the second part of Romans 7 is to be understood. It’s not that Paul has backslidden when he says words like, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me that is in my flesh” (Romans 7:18). I think it has more to do with the levels of sensitivity that he has with respect to remaining sin. And it’s in that sense that really you never get to the point — as a Christian, at least if you’re healthy — that you pat yourself on the back and say, “Wow, you can put me side by side with the greatest saint on earth, the Lord would say, ‘Conrad, you’re doing a good job.’” If you follow the most godly man or woman into his closet and listen to him crying to God about his own sin, you’d probably think he’s fallen into the worst of sin. But it’s really the amount of light that the saint has with respect to his inner working. That would be my twofold answer.

Sam Storms: I was helped first by Jonathan Edwards in Religious Affections on this, but then also by J. I. Packer. It’s the idea that when you’re first born again, there’s still a whole lot of sin in your life and you don’t hate it all that much. And as you grow and mature, there’s less and less in your life, but you hate it all the more. In other words, there’s a lot of sin and little pain. And as sin diminishes, the pain increases. I think sometimes, because Christians who desire to grow in maturity feel miserable and are broken in this sense of self-contempt hatred for what they find in their flesh, they conclude from that that they haven’t matured, they haven’t grown, and they haven’t experienced any success. I think it’s just the opposite.

I think if you could actually quantify it — and I don’t think it’s a wise thing to do — you would say, “If there are far fewer sins at this stage of my life than I had, why am I feeling so much more miserable about what’s left?” That’s a sign of growth and of maturity. So I would encourage the person who thinks that because they’re feeling intensified anguish and pain and conviction it somehow means that they’re not growing in Christ. No, it’s precisely because you’re growing in Christ becoming more and more like him. The closer you get to the sun, the hotter it’s going to feel, the more painful and incinerating it is, as it were. Well, it’s the same way. The closer you come to Christ and become more and more like him, the more you’re going to hate sin as he did.

David Mathis: How do you reconcile the doctrine of sin with God’s sovereignty, particularly when discussing with the congregation, or when challenged about God’s responsibility (or not) for sin?

Sam Storms: You wrote the book Spectacular Sins.

John Piper: God has never sinned, ever. And he never will sin. And James says he can’t be tempted with sin (James 1:13), which I take to mean not, that he can’t be presented with objective allurements, but that he never feels sinful enticements. He was clearly presented with objective allurements — bread, power, jumping off a temple, etc. So he can be tempted objectively, but he can’t be tempted in that his enticements lure him, which is what James says he means by it.

So God never sins, and therefore, the problem exists of how he can govern sin. And my baseline is, as I read the whole Bible, story after story after story — hence the book Spectacular Sins — it shows God governing human behaviors, all of them, including sin. So practically speaking in your church, the best place to help people with this is Acts 4:27–28 where it says Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and the Jews were gathered together to do what your plan and your hand predestined to take place, namely murder Jesus.

So the Gentiles put nails through and said expedient things like, “I don’t find any guilt in him, but I’m going to crucify him anyway.” And the Jews cried, “Crucify him, crucify him,” and so on. Everybody was sinning. The only way the Son of God can be murdered is if sin happens. And the murder of the Son of God was planned before the foundation of the world because there’s a book by that name in eternity called “the book of the life of the lamb who was salin” (Revelation 13:8), and it was prophesied in Isaiah 53:5 that he would be bruised and slain and killed, and all that was sin.

And so, God is planning and governing sin at the cross. If your people reject that, they just can’t be Christian, period. You can’t be Christian and believe that God didn’t plan the cross. You can’t. If God didn’t put Christ forward to be murdered, we’re not saved. So if you can just get your people to believe that at the center of reality, namely the cross, God is governing sinful actions for glorious ends, then you can move out from there to the story of Joseph, where he says, “You meant it for evil and God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). It doesn’t say, “You meant it for evil and God used it for good.” That’s weaseling. It says, “You meant it for evil and God meant it for good.”

In fact, it says of that story in Psalm 105:17 that God sent Joseph through sin. So then just move out from that to all the sinning of your life. God is sovereign over the sin of your life. This is dangerous to think about if you’re not really submitted to Scripture because you could jump from “God governs my life” (including all the sins I commit) to “I’m not responsible” and “let’s all sin that grace may abound.” If you draw that conclusion, you’ve abandoned Scripture and you’re on your way out of the faith.

So if the question is, how can that be? I just don’t think you need to answer that. Edwards has written a whole book about it. It’s very complex, and it’s called Freedom of the Will. But I just think for the average pastor and the average people (and I’m in this category), I’m just going to plead that it’s a mystery at the origin of the first sin. I thought that question would come up. I don’t know if it is or not. Why did Lucifer sin the first time? I’m just going to plead mystery at that point. I have ideas of describing some of the dynamics, but they’re speculative and, on my own, why he permits me sin any given day, or why he permits the same sin to endure for 40 years, I have general answers about. I could talk about how he humbles me, how he makes me feel desperate, and how he draws me to himself.

But in the end, God’s decisions about these things are quite mysterious, and I think your people will appreciate that you don’t know the ultimate answer to that question if you’re willing to affirm what the Bible says, namely, that God is sovereign over all sin, that he is not actively doing it but governing it by means of permission and active engagement such that he controls it all. And then in relation to how it works, you can say, “I don’t have all the answers.”

Sam Storms: The thing to avoid — and unfortunately many that we know in the professing evangelical world have not avoided — is to be presented with these two realities (the sovereignty of God and the moral accountability of man), and they not be content to embrace the mystery that you just articulated. And so, one of those two has to go. Nobody jettisons human accountability. They jettison the sovereignty of God, which is basically why open theism exists in the way that it does.

I have a quick follow-up question. So when Herod and Pontius Pilate are standing, according to Revelation 20, at the great white throne judgment and they’re being judged according to their works out of the book, if they raise their hand and say, “Your honor, I’m sorry, it’s right there in Acts 4. We just did what your hand predestined us to occur. You can’t hold us accountable for that,” what will God say to that?

John Piper: He would say, “You chose from your true self to kill the Son of God.” It was a real choice, a real hatred, a real, despicable weakness. It was you, and your conscience testifies clearly that it was you and you’re just using this as a cover. It was really you. It was really your conscience. And they will know that’s true. They will know that’s true. And if they say, “Philosophically, it’s impossible to be held accountable because you controlled us,” God would say, “Don’t teach me. I made you. It is not philosophically impossible. You’re making that up.” They’ll know that’s true. And there are just millions of people who are making that up. That philosophical presupposition that you cannot be accountable while God is sovereign is a dream world created in theological sweatshops to demonize the church. It’s all over and it’s horrible. It is not biblical. There’s not a shred of the Bible that teaches that philosophical presupposition that is brought to the Bible.

I have corresponded with people who admit that. That there are prominent Armenians today teaching in seminaries who will admit that, that it’s not in the Bible. It’s a necessary philosophical presupposition to make ethics work. They say you cannot have an ethical world where God can be absolutely sovereign and people be held accountable. That cannot be, no matter what the Bible says. I have heard a prominent evangelical say that.

I have zero respect for that attitude. So I’m talking to Herod here and just telling him, “You’re making this up. I’m sorry that you picked that up from so many people in your day, but it isn’t true that I cannot be sovereign and you cannot be accountable. That’s not true. And I tried to make it plain in dozens and dozens and dozens of texts in this Book, and you weren’t paying any attention because you brought philosophical presuppositions and shut this book down.” I just think everybody watching that trial proceeding at that point is going to say, “Woah.” And Herod is going to shut his mouth.

David Mathis: Steve, do you want to continue?

Steve Childers: Well, I know a lot about sin. I would say the pastoral application of that radically biblical theological truth is found in the personal crisis that people have in the real world and they usually express it with common terms. Is God all-loving but not all-sovereign, or is God all-sovereign and not all-loving? That’s the way that theology works itself out when people face crises.

I will never forget when I was in Dallas and pastoring a church there. I was planting and pastoring a church in the North Dallas area. I was at the gate of Delta 191, and all you’d have to do is Google that to see what I’m talking about. That plane went down and almost everyone on it perished. I was waiting for that plane at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Now, by God’s sovereign grace, I was not waiting for someone to get off of it. I was putting a family member on it, and I watched people fall to the floor on their faces when that team of official-looking people came walking up to the crowd. Everybody knew because they could see the TV. They knew everything had been shut down and something was really wrong and they just didn’t know which gate.

I read The Dallas Morning News editorials and I read the cleric’s response and I just got nauseated. It’s exactly what you’re talking about, John. I listened to these people you were talking about and the ones you’ve spoken to and what they’re saying and the lies they’re communicating. They said basically, “Don’t listen to anyone tell you anything but that God is loving and he is near you now. And he had nothing to do with Delta 191 going down.”

It was fascinating. People found temporary comfort until the penny dropped. They thought, “Do I really want to be loved by a God who is weak and who does not have power?” And then they found solace in affirming the biblical reality of both Christ as king and judge, as loving and sovereign, and did what you have modeled before us, bowed before him in mystery. And to me that’s the pastoral application of that. When the Delta 191s come into people’s lives, in terms of loss of a spouse or child or something serious.

John Piper: I would just say amen. After 33 years of trying to help people prepare for being one of those who falls on the floor because your husband was on that plane, that’s mainly what I’m doing in ministry. I’m helping people get ready for that news because it’s coming. It is coming. And I would just testify that the view I hold for thousands of people has proved to be precious. If I thought I was just a mean guy helping tender people feel horrible about the God they have to serve, I would quit. If I didn’t see moms with disabled kids being helped because God is sovereign over the knitting of the kid in the womb, if I didn’t think that this was good news for her, I would quit the ministry. This book would be in the trash. So believe me, I’m all there pastorally. We’re not playing theological games here, just trying to win arguments. We’re trying to help people fall on their face, rip their clothes to shreds, put ash on their face, and say with Job, “Naked I came, naked I go. God has done me no wrong.”

Bryan Chapell: First, I want to express my respect for the men to the right as they are willing to talk about the things that we can’t answer, the mysteries that the Scriptures are themselves affirming. I think sometimes when we try to answer every question that Scripture doesn’t answer, in some ways we are not identifying the questions that Scripture itself asks. And there are levels of submission, and one we kind of readily come to as evangelicals is that we are bowing to the answers that Scripture gives to its questions like the question, where did evil come from? Scripture gives the answer to that question. It says evil and sin came into this world through the fall of humanity. And so, if the question is, “Where did that evil come from?” we say, “In Adam all sinned, and nature was corrupted.”

Now then the next question that people want to ask is, “Well then why did God not stop it?” Scripture is not answering that question. Scripture doesn’t ask that question. And part of my obedience before God is bowing not only to Scripture’s answers, but bowing to Scripture’s questions. Those are the questions I’m supposed to be asking and recognize there are other questions, but Scripture is not answering those questions. It’s answering the questions necessary for me to honor God properly. And those are the questions that Scripture is asking.

Then the question is, well, if Scripture is not answering all the questions nor asking all the questions that I ask, why should I trust God? And there I think, John, you have said it so beautifully and Steve was hinting at it, too. I would say, “Look at the cross.” There I would say, “The reason I trust God is because of what he showed me about his character in his Son and the sacrifice.” I’m not going to trust God if I only look at earthly circumstances, but if I look at the character of God revealed in Christ, that’s why I trust him. And that’s why I’m willing to, if you will, settle not only for the answers but actually submit myself to the questions that Scripture is asking.

David Mathis: We’re almost there with Delta 191, but let’s relate it to natural disasters. Someone asked, “Please explain how the curse in Genesis 3 relates to natural disasters such as earthquakes, but especially to disease.”

John Piper: Well, I don’t want to go first on every one of these, so somebody else should go first. But I have a verse. It’s Romans 8:20–21, which says that the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it, in hope that the whole creation would be set free from its bondage to decay. I think disease is in those two verses. When Adam and Eve morally transgressed God’s word and offended him, God did something very surprising. He did not respond with a moral disease only, but a physical collapse of the universe. I tried to answer in my talks why that is and said that human beings in sin don’t think sin is ugly, but they think disease is ugly.

And the point is, yes, disease is a picture. God put it there immediately as a picture of that. You don’t think immorality and disobedience are ugly and offensive? Look at this. This is the consequence of that. It’s a picture of that. So my answer to the question is that disease is an appointment by God that the creation, including all of our bodies, would fall with our souls as a picture of the ugliness of our souls.

Sam Storms: That’s why we let you answer first. And I would just say that when God cursed the ground in Genesis 3, the result was squash.

John Piper: Say that again?

Sam Storms: Squash is a natural disaster. It’s the result of the curse of the fall.

John Piper: Like asparagus or something?

Sam Storms: No, asparagus is fine; squash isn’t.

Steve Childers: It’s actually broccoli, bro.

Sam Storms: No, broccoli is okay. Squash is a natural disaster that will not be in the new earth.

Steve Childers: We’ll have to agree to disagree.

Sam Storms: Okay, I had to bring some levity to that rather heavy-handed response, which is entirely accurate. I totally agree.

John Piper: Did we get the question? Was there more there?

David Mathis: No, but Bryan may want to say something additional.

Bryan Chapell: Well, the specificity of Genesis 2:17 is “dying, you shall die.” What’s the consequence? It’s not just the death that happens, but the dying begins. All the corruption of our being begins. We are dust and to dust we shall return. The fall has language of what the enmity is about. We can ask, “What’s the corruption of childbearing? What’s the corruption of the ground? What’s the corruption of nature? What’s the corruption of our being?” It’s not just that death now happens, dying now is occurring.

All of that about corruption is integral to understanding the fall. It’s not just the physical nature. Again, even spiritually we are undone. So everything that goes into being a spiritual, physical creation — like why people struggle with depression, and why when we get sick our mood is affected, and why some people have sexual issues that are different from other people with sexual issues, and why some of us have anger issues, and why some of us have diseases and some of us don’t — includes the corruption of everything that is now integral to fallen creatures. And sometimes, if we don’t recognize the extent of the fall, we’re not understanding how much God must correct and will by the new heavens and the new earth.

Steve Childers: I’m just following exactly what Bryan is saying. Sam, you mentioned Herman Bavinck, and I just think he’s the most underread theologian that’s now been translated finally. Herman Bavinck made your point. You didn’t help him with that, did you?

Bryan Chapell: No, he didn’t consult me.

Steve Childers: Herman Bavinck made the exact point that you were just making, Bryan. That is, you cannot understand the fullness of the redemptive work of the supremacy of Christ until you understand the fullness of the extent of the fall and what sin did. And what I have never had my eyes so opened to was when he expounded the result of the fall. It was primarily, but not only, our relationship with God that was broken, but also it was our relationship with ourselves was broken, including the body that goes with who we are. It became corrupt. Our relationship with others also became corrupt. And this is so missing in evangelicalism today. Our relationship with creation as the mission of God was corrupted, understanding that the mission of God is to see the supremacy of Christ over all things by his image-bearers multiplying and filling the earth and ruling over creation.

We don’t just worship forever, but one of the ways we worship forever is by working forever on a new heavens and a new earth. It’s exactly what Sam would say. We keep writing, we keep learning, and we keep painting. People think, “That is so earthy.” The good news of the gospel is so earthy, as Sam said in his talk. I mean another way to put it is heaven is a round trip ticket, and most evangelicalism isn’t seeing that. Heaven is an intermediate state, but the hope of the Christian is not the intermediate state. The hope of the Christian is not heaven. The hope of the Christian is not one day when you die you’re going to go to heaven and worship Christ forever. The hope of the Christian is yes, that is our hope, but what is our ultimate hope? Our ultimate hope is in another day when he returns and unites our bodies with our souls and we worship and fulfill his mission forever — a mission of bringing glory to his name by ruling and reigning over his creation, making his invisible kingdom more visible in every realm, to the glory of his name. This concept of his mission began in the garden, and his mission now and his mission in the new heavens and the new earth, relates to the brokenness of our bodies. It’s just one part of the fullness of that redemption.

David Mathis: Conrad, do you want to add something?

Conrad Mbewe: Well, I think everything’s been said here. The only little addition I would like to make is that Genesis 1:23 basically functions like either an introduction to a sermon or in a good piece of music. It’s those initial hints on which the rest of that wonderful piece of music is best. And consequently, the question that is being asked amounts to the fact that, as a pastor who is helping a church member perhaps with a very crippling disease, you take them to a capacity like this, basically saying, “This is where it all begins.” And then you help them to see through the perfect world, the fallen world, the regenerate world, and finally glorification. And you just help them to see where it will all end so that they are not locked up in that bubble of time in the now and what they are wrestling with. Yes, there is the curse, and ultimately there will be that glorification, and they need to worship the Lord in the present with that hope of where they are going. I think that’s the only thing I would like to add.

David Mathis: Let me transition to the question of fun. Many have asked about alternative language for fun, perhaps from John, but the group here together. John spoke about fun last night and its inadequacies in describing what we’re doing in church and in ministry. What’s some alternative language? Sam, you mentioned levity. What more is there to say about fun for the Christian?

Sam Storms: Other words might be fascination, exhilaration, captivation, being enthralled, being besotted with God, being entranced with God, etc. Those are some good words. Those are some good experiences.

John Piper: While they’re thinking, the bigger point of that is how a cultural mood, a cultural moment, defines the emotional life of the Christian. Language is of relatively minor significance in the end. The deeper issue is, why did that happen? Before 35 years ago, I doubt that any pastors described their best days as fun. And since then, it's been the dominant way. What happened? What’s that mean? And I think it has a meaning. That’s my concern. I think it has a meaning. It’s all over the place in all different kinds. And I think pastors should join me in this if you agree. I wrote a whole book about this a year ago about seeing beauty by saying things beautifully. That’s maybe too highfalutin to make any sense at all.

I just mean when you preach, when you teach, I think one of your callings is to shape the language of your people. You shape the vocabulary that they use about God, the vocabulary they use about joy, about marriage, about sex, about failure, about everything. They’re watching TV all day long and they’re getting all their words and all their language from that. And what I watch young millennials doing is trying to use the language. I say, “Yeah, you do sound hip and cool and aware, but what do you bring? What difference are you making? Are you deepening and enriching and enlarging and shaping the capacities to grasp reality?” Because language limits us. If your people sink lower and lower and lower into a cultural common denominator to how they describe their emotions, their emotions are going to get smaller and smaller and smaller so that those words Sam said will sound ridiculous. There will be no emotional correspondence in the soul of the Christian and the word “exhilaration for God”.

They would just kind of hear that word and say, “That’s fake. That’s plastic. Fun is real.” When I hear that I think, “I get where you are.” It’s serious. The language is not serious, but the issue is serious. So it’s an effort to try to help pastors become language-makers, not takers. Come on. We can lift people, we can beautify, and we can enrich. This is not about aesthetics, except in the Edwardsian sense. This is about the fact that if your people don’t have the word “chivalry” in their vocabulary, for example, they probably don’t have the reality of chivalry in their lives.

And you can just go word by word by word. There are words that have been lost because the reality has been lost. As the words go down and get lost, the reality goes down and gets lost. There’s a correlation. This Book is unbelievably rich with language just so rich, like “kill,” or, “murder,” or, “put to death.” You don’t have to be hip and cool to find shocking language. You just read your Bible and people will be awake when you talk. So that’s what was behind that. And if somebody wants to make a case for the word fun as carrying the weight of glory in the ministry, make it. I’m really all ears.

Sam Storms: If those words you’re thinking of just sound highfalutin, or whatever, I’ll give you one of the most glorious words in the Bible that everybody can pronounce and understand. It’s the word “Oh”. In Romans 11:33, it’s the first word. By the way, that’s not a little transitional particle that English commentators put in there. It’s in the Greek text. Paul has just been talking through 11 chapters of the grace of God and the beauty of justification, and then he comes to this doxology and when he starts, he says, “Oh!” Tychicus probably just jumped out of the seat. He was trying to transcribe.

When you preach Romans, spell it, R-O-H-M-A-N-S. He says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Romans 11:33–34).

Does that word “oh” mean fun? No, I think it means wonder, awe, and amazement. It’s something mind-blowing and circuit-destroying. You could go home and preach a whole series of sermons on that one word. Explore it. Why is it that when our people come to church, if you asked them, “Give me one word to describe your reaction to what you experienced today,” they might say, “Uh.” We’ve lost that sense of “Oh! The depth of the riches and the wisdom, the knowledge of God.”

John Piper: And one of the reasons we’ve lost it is because you don’t have vocabulary to capture it. So even if God were to touch you at midnight with that, what would you say? You’d probably say, “Wow.” Wow is okay. I don’t make a case against wow. It’s just kind of California for Shakespeare.

Sam Storms: There’s a church called Wow Church in Oklahoma. I won’t tell you what town.

John Piper: “Wow” is okay. But there should be a few more possibilities in our vocabulary to capture that statement of “Oh, the depth of the wisdom and the riches and the knowledge of God.” And I’m just saying that for pastors, that’s part of your job. I have this beef with commentaries. Now I have an education. I don’t think in any major academic commentary you’ll ever see the word “Oh!” None. You might find an exclamation point here and there, but you won’t find the word “Oh!” That’s symptomatic of our disconnection of academia and worship, because if you put the word “Oh!” in the Baker Exegetical Commentary, the editor is going to scratch it. It just doesn’t belong there.

Just be aware of that, guys, as you’re studying. You’re absorbing language that limits you. And everywhere you listen, everywhere you read, you can absorb language. I really do think that it wouldn’t hurt to get a volume of George Herbert and a volume of Shakespeare, not because the theology is all that great, but because Shakespeare and William Tyndale put more words into the English language than any other human beings. They created language, and they created possibilities. We ought to be doing that because we are the ones who see. We’re given eyes to see realities that nobody has words for. Shakepeare spent most of his time saying, “I don’t know what I’m talking about.” But my, he worked really hard to find some words to help us. And that’s your job.

Bryan Chapell: For me, some of the help has been looking back to the Reformers and how they struggled with issues of language at times. We have issues of translation that are deep, philosophical issues for Scripture right now. And one of the great issues is this: is my major obligation to translate in the common language of the present time, or is my major goal to elevate the language of the present time to coincide with the intent of the original authors? And that’s always a bit of a dance, because if you elevate so much you’re going to require everybody to speak Greek or Hebrew. So there’s always some dance between honor and access. We honor the Word by the words that we choose and the way that we choose to say it, but we have to give people adequate access. And that means we become students of the Word and we become students of those who hear it in order to maintain that proper balance.

The Presbyterians in the room look to something like the Westminster Confession’s Directory for Public Worship. One of the things they wrestled with even in preaching was, which are we going after more, honor or access? And the language of the time, which I use consistently with my own students, is that the Reformers said that in our preaching, in our teaching, and in our translating as we choose words, we must address the necessities and the capacities of our people. Now that’s a wonderful combination. What do they need to hear, and what are they capable of hearing? And that may even be at different stages in the life of the person, the life of the church, and the life of the pastor. I’m wanting to elevate, but if I’m speaking over their heads, I’m not even enabling that.

So I have this decision to make, this pastoral task always to keep in mind. I’m speaking to the necessities and the capacities of God’s people in order to bring them to the glory of God. And that’s why the pastoral task is such an important one as I weigh both things.

David Mathis: Here’s a final question for you guys. How does a pastor who is frustrated by his own sin minister to those in the congregation who are involved (entangled in some way) with sin? How does a pastor who’s frustrated by his own sin and tired of it minister to those in his congregation who were involved with sin?

Sam Storms: You should start by acknowledging the frustration, being honest enough without being lurid in the pulpit, without being unnecessarily titillating. As it were, you say, “I’m like you. I’m frustrated. I face it, I yield, and I hate it. I can’t get beyond it. Pray for me. Don’t look at me as being some sort of sanctified statue who’s inert and dead. Don’t think I don’t still have a flesh that’s waging war against the Spirit, because I do.” I think honesty is the first step. And then I’m sure there are a lot of other things that could be said.

People need to know that people who sit on platforms have passions of the flesh that they have to abstain from as much as anybody else. I think knowing that we’re walking with them in that journey and we’re honest about it is important. And then share this to whatever degree of success we’ve had and why. I’ve had a whole series of messages based on “Oh!” in Romans 11:33, and I think the greatest incentive and power to break the bondage and enslavement to fleshly passions is that. It’s “Oh!” It’s not trying to establish some sort of legalistic taboo that isn’t in Scripture. It’s not about binding myself to all these rules and expectations. It’s deepening my fascination with the splendor and the beauty of God.

Conrad Mbewe: My only addition there would be the fact that God in his wisdom did not choose angels to be the undershepherds of his people. He chose those of us who have cleft feet, those of us who can say to God’s people, “I’ve been there and I’ve had those struggles.” And I think most of us pastors will realize that once upon a time, we went through a lot of frustrations that made us feel as though we were utterly forsaken by God. And now when we are ministering to the people of God, and we are realizing that it was actually a school that God was taking us through. So instead of us standing up there and condemning the people of God, we are in fact sympathetic and empathetic with them as they are going through what they’re going through. The point is that our schooling hasn’t finished. We are still in the works, as it were. Instead of looking at those frustrations purely as a negative thing, we need to see those frustrations as a way in which God is realistically equipping us to really minister to the people of God.

I want to add the fact that it’s those same experiences that make Christ so precious to us as a Redeemer, as a Savior, and as a Sanctifier. It’s what makes Christ so precious to us as one who holds our hand as we walk through the realities of this life. The statement by David in Psalm 23 is that he leads us besides quiet waters, and he restores our souls. I mean, you feel it, you sense it, and you shed tears in that reality. And consequently, when you are ministering to God’s people and they are sensing something of that frustration, you are saying to them, “Go to Christ.” And the reason why you’re saying it is because that’s where you’ve just come from. You’ve been there. So you say, “Go there. The great shepherd of the sheep will restore you. He will lead you beside quiet waters.” That would be my answer to that question.

Steve Childers: My only follow up would be just almost to amplify that and to add to it in light of Sam’s comment about transparency. Don’t pretend. That comes from years of me pretending. Don’t pretend. And what that means is what Sam is saying. You have to be vulnerable and real. And yet, also don’t make the same mistake I made by being a fool and being unlovingly vulnerable to the wrong people. I know so many students whom we’ve talked about being authentic and real, and the next thing you know, you won’t believe what they’re saying in the pulpit. That’s not honoring God and it hurts God’s people, that kind of vulnerability and that authenticity. Okay, so what’s my option? Pretend? No, don’t pretend and be vulnerable, but understand there are levels of trust.

I’ll never forget something, and this may be controversial with some of you. I had an old prof Howard Hendricks saying to a group of us, “At that level down there, find somebody outside of your church.” I fought against that concept for years. And you still may. I think it’s like a judgment call. He wasn’t saying we should pretend with our elders or pretend with our leaders. He was saying, “Take them to the level of authenticity that is loving and God-honoring. But there are deeper levels where you are not loving and honoring God by being that transparent with your leaders.” And Hendricks said to us, “Take it from me, men. That level is often (not always) loving. You will hurt those within.”

And then the other thing I would say in light of that would be to recognize biblically what it means — this is going to sound blasphemous — that God is not enough. What a way to end the conference, huh? What it means that God is not enough. And what I mean by that is in that creation account, when he looked at Adam, he said, “It’s good. It’s good. It’s good. It’s good. It’s good.” And then he said, “It’s not good. It’s not good for man to be alone.” And the concept there is that God created his image-bearers to reflect his own image in terms of us being communal beings. Evangelicalism is plagued with individualistic, highly privatized Jesus-and-me gospel. If you’re discouraged, we say just go into your closet and get the gospel and you and Jesus deal with this. That to me is worldly. It’s denying the very concept that as an image-bearer, you are not designed to overcome sin by yourself. I feel like Dr. Phil, saying, “How’s that working for you?”

So I would say be transparent, and in that transparency, take that at the right levels and to the lowest level. In other words, don’t pretend, be an image-bearer, get over your discouragement with not buying into the privatized gospel, but let God meet you through his people. Now, did I cross a line?

Sam Storms: You’re saying that one of the ways we discover that God is enough is through the encouragement, the edification, the rebuke, and the accountability that we find in community one with another.

Steve Childers: Absolutely. And the reason I said that with such emphasis and shock is because John keeps telling me you need to be more hyperbolic to get people’s attention.