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The Gospel, Better than Man-made Religion

As I’ve studied the Gospel of John each week for the last year and a half, I was continually struck by the futility of man-made religion over against the powerful triumph of the gospel.

In John 3, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about being “born again” / “born from above,”  a spiritual birth that needs to take place in the life of anyone who desires to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus was talking about and so Jesus responds, in 3:10, “Aren’t you a Master of Israel, and you don’t know these things?” Nico was a Pharisees, a group that prided themselves in keeping not only the Law down to the very minutiae, but also in observing man-made boundaries imposed around that same Law. Nicodemus was serious about religion, but yet he was unaware of the promises of the New Covenant relating to the new birth. He was religious, but he had missed the gospel!

Jesus heals a man who had been sick for 38 years in John 5. The religious people of the day try to kill Jesus. In the ninth chapter, Jesus heals a man that was born blind. Since these healings occurred on Sabbath Day, the Pharisees were outraged, and so rather than rejoicing, they interrogate the former blind man and his family and shortly thereafter try to kill Jesus. Jesus is in the healing business; man-made religionists are in the interrogation and protest business.

Carson comments,

Is there not something [really wrong] about religion that objects to the healing of long-term paralytics and the curing of someone born blind?

It actually gets worse.

Do you remember the account of Lazarus and his resurrection from the dead, as recorded in John 11? The Pharisees had a strategy meeting shortly after Jesus raised Lazarus.

11:47 “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.

Apparently, if news had gotten out that Jesus indeed raised a man from the dead, then his popularity would swirl out of control, thus catching the attention of the Roman authorities. The end result would mean that these religious men could lose their positions of authority almost-authority and almost-freedom under the Roman Empire.

Caiaphas decides that it would be easier for all parties involved to simply kill Jesus, the Messiah, rather than deal with the Romans, so we read in 11:53:Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.”

If seeking to heal the great miracle Worker were not enough, in chapter 12 we see that they even tried to kill Lazarus! What was his crime? Being resurrected? A characteristic of man-made religion is deep anger and hatred for those who have been extended unfathomable grace.

This is the same group of religious folks that took Jesus and tried Him in John 18, trampling and twisting their own legal system in order to murder Him. They tried him at night, which was illegal. They tried him without witnesses, which was illegal. They rendered a verdict and sentence in the same day, which was illegal. They tried him without giving him a formal defense, which was illegal.

And then, they have the audacity to cry out to Pilate in chapter 19:7, “We have a law, and according to our law, He ought to die!”

Really? An appeal to the law after trampling it for your own murderous purposes?

Proponents of Man-made religion could kill their Savior and continue their religiosity. If it were possible for them to execute God, it would change nothing in their day-to-day life. They could have no sheep left to minister to, and this would not bother them for a second, so long as they’ve kept all their man-made rules. For many proponents of man-made religion, it was never ultimately about God and others anyway.

Another author explains that these pseudo-religious people, “build their sense of worth on their moral and spiritual performance, as a kind of resume to present before God and the world.” And in so doing, they believe they can and have earned the grace of God, that they do not and never did stand in need His mercy, and they ultimately miss the gospel.

Man-made religion really boils down to mankind’s attempts to reach up to God with their goodness and efforts in self-righteousness. On the other hand,  the Gospel is about Jesus’ reaching down to rescue mankind from their sin through His work on the cross and resurrection from the grave!

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Confidence Squarely in Christ Alone

I’m on vacation this week and just finished Atonement, which is a compilation of sermons and lectures on the topic. Overall, the book is quite good, but the first chapter by JI Packer and the last chapter by Alistair Begg are both outstanding. I just wanted to share a quote from Begg’s chapter:

What is the ground of our confidence when the evil one comes to us and suddenly fires a fiery dart from out of left field? It happens constantly to us. It is some heinous thought; it may be a thought of jealousy. It may be a thought of deep animosity. It may be an impure thought. Whatever it might be, in it comes, and it’s there. And it is no sooner in your mind when, ‘old smutty face,’ as CS Lewis called him, comes to the front door of your mind and says, ‘hey, I thought you were a Christian. How could you possibly be a Christian and be thinking things like that?’ What we normally say at this moment is, ‘well, I know I was thinking that, but you know, I read 17 verses in my Bible this morning. Also, I was thinking about witnessing this afternoon.’ My friend, if you think like that, you are Islamic. You are trying to outweigh the bad with the good! Instead, you get to say, ‘go back to hell where you belong.’ Beloved, in wearing the helmet of salvation, there is an awareness of the cross of Jesus Christ. We must find all of our confidence there.

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Review of Collision: Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson

This week my wife and I spent an evening watching Collision, a documentary on the debates between Christopher Hitchens (one of the proponents of the new atheism) and Douglas Wilson (a Reformed pastor). We were quite enthralled with the dialogue and found the whole experience stretching and strengthening for the most part. While we enjoyed Wilson’s general defense of the existence of God, we had a few issues with both the manner and content of his defense of the Christian Worldview specifically.

He succeeded greatly at demonstrating the incoherence of Hitchens’ assertion that Christianity is bad for the world. Hitchens argues that since the Old Testament contains the slaying of the Amalekites, the biblical worldview is severely compromised and therefore not good for the world. Wilson counters that the Darwinian model, which Hitchens espouses, contains no logical catalyst for caring about the Amelekites at all. After all, if they are the weakest, their survival is of no concern anyway. Wilson explained  fairly cogently that in order to invoke a frame of reference which calls for moral objectivity and the judgment of what is good or bad, Hitchens has to borrow from the Theistic worldview!

His eschatological view, i.e. preterism (the view that most or all of the Bible’s eschatological promises were fulfilled in the 1st century) was painfully obvious at numerous instances. Further, he was quite willing to use some language that I would call inappropriate, especially for a Christian.

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One Minute Apologist

This is a great web/video resource that is causing me to scratch my head and wonder exactly how I’ve missed it all along. It’s called the One Minute Apologist.  Bobby Conway’s ministry is conservative theologically and simple in vision; they simply want to help every day Christians simply but clearly defend the truths of Christianity. The One Minute Apologist has a YouTube channel as well, which presents brief answers to some difficult questions that you may encounter from friends, family, or coworkers.

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Theology of Suffering

The following is a devotional essay written by Austin Hoffman, a friend of mine, who is preparing for church-planting ministry. Austin has an open invitation to post his writings here any time.

When trials come, why do we always feel as if God was taken by surprise? Why do we think of God as an idle being until trouble comes our way? Why do we believe that God will spring into action to save us from all trouble as if He was caught off guard by it? We think of God this way because we want Him to be concerned with our comfort. However, we know that God is not taken by surprise by any amount of suffering that we go through.

We suppress this knowledge because we are uncomfortable with the notion that God does not care about our mere comfort; He is committed to something far greater. God is committed to saving souls. God is committed to sanctifying His saints. God is committed to shaping and molding worshippers for His own glory. But this unseen purpose of God scares us. We don’t want to believe that God permits and even orchestrates the gut-wrenching agonies that we feel, for a purpose we may never see. We want God to be constantly committed to our pleasure. He is not. However, He always works in a transcendent and sovereign way to bring about good to the praise of His own glory (Rom 8:28; Gen 50:20; 1 Pet 1:7).

This can be a reassuring thought, for we know that God’s unseen will transcends our own constant comfort. So if God must break me in order to save another, so be it. I will not be broken without cause. If God must cause me to stagger and fall beneath an unbearable load, so be it. I will not bear the burden alone. If God allows or even orchestrates a heart-scarring pain into my life, simply to make me more Christ-like, so be it. Whatever unspeakable agony I bear, I can bear it through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).

Why do we revolt against the sovereignty of God when troubles come our way? Is it because we are far too consumed with our own comfort or pleasure? A faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted. A faith that is tested through unspeakable agony is more precious that gold refined through fire (1 Pet 1:7). God desires that we trust in Him completely, rely on Him fully, and seek no other refuge or confidence than the Son of God. He desires that the life we live be lived completely by faith in the Son of God (Gal 2:20). When we face our fiery trial, we ought to rejoice in the Lord that He is sovereignly working towards His perfect will. God’s will cannot ever be improved upon; it is perfect.

So when our hearts are scarred so deeply that words cannot describe the pain we feel, we ought to be driven to worship. We ought to praise God because He is committed to a greater goal and purpose than our mere comfort. We ought to rejoice, because we are in the center of God’s sovereign purpose. We finally ought to lean on Christ, and lean hard – we do not bear our burden alone. Run to Christ. Find in Him the most secure refuge. Commit your future to the keeper and guardian of your soul.

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What the Jennifer Knapp Controversy Teaches About Depravity and Witness

If you haven’t kept up with the Jennifer Knapp on Larry King Live ordeal, you can watch the entire exchange and a little bit of commentary here. The purpose of this post is not to develop an entire biblical theology of sexuality or to comprehensively develop the biblical view. Rather, I want to operate under the assumption that the Bible is inspired/inerrant and that both homosexual desire and homosexual acts are both displeasing to God. The purpose, then, is to help us see the “tricks” of those who want to discredit God’s Word and to equip us to navigate our way through such attacks in a manner that speaks to the heart.

Read the rest of this entry »

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First Baptisms and Chartering Service

Our Sunday believers’ meetings have been growing since September 13 when we launched. January 31st, we chartered our church and became the Lakewood Baptist Church of Delafield, WI, an autonomous local church.

BTW, If you live in Waukesha County and are looking for a church that focuses on expository preaching, conservative God-centered musical worship, as well as passionate evangelism, then join us on Sunday mornings, 10:15 AM at Cushing Elementary School in Delafield.

Since the Lord told his disciples to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them, and to teach them all things, we were thrilled to baptize 7 believers in obedience to that Great Commission command. What a joy to see believers willing to publicly identify with Jesus Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection, and to do so in a hotel swimming pool! Many laughed when they saw me transformed from my blazer and tie to my t-shirt and flower-print swimming shorts! This was my first baptism ever, and it was a significant and thrilling moment in my young life and ministry.

We were thrilled to see 144 people pack into gymnasium at the elementary school, which we rent each week for our worship services.  We almost had to pull back the gym’s dividing curtain in order to accommodate all of our own people as well as those who came to celebrate with us what God has accomplished in keeping with the promise of Jesus to build His Church in such a way that the gates of the hell would not prevail against Her.

On this special day we chartered (45 members), adopted a constitution, called a pastor, elected deacons, adopted a budget, approved financial officers, and placed $10,000 in a building fund, praying that God would provide us our own place in a timely manner. We will continue praying that God would grow us deeper in our relationships with Christ, and that He would continue to expand our ability to advance the gospel in our community!

Too see more pictures, click here.

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