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Watch the below video with Dr. Jeremy Pierre. If I ever issue a revised copy of Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds I’m going to pay my own gas money to buy Dr. Pierre lunch so we can talk biblical forgiveness. He interacts with hard questions in a way that is both pastorally sensitive and biblically responsible. 

“How do I forgive someone who refuses to say sorry?” Much of the reason I wrote Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds was to interact with this question. There are at least two extremes to avoid.

  • On the one hand, Christians should always follow Christ’s example and proactively show love (Romans 5:8, Romans 12:21). Using the word picture of gift giving, we should always wrap the package of forgiveness and offer it to those who hurt us. 
  • Yet, Christians must also avoid diminishing evil that is done nor should they be help captive by unrepentant offenders (Romans 12:19, 2 Thess 1:6-10, 2 Tim 4:14). If the offending party is unwilling to repent and unwrap the package, then we can trust God for justice.

See also:

The Forgiveness Quiz – This will get you started thinking about forgiveness.

Didn’t Jesus Forgive Unconditionally on the Cross? – One of the first questions that comes up when we talk about the truth that Christians should not always forgive.

Others on Unconditional Forgiveness – This is a collection of quotes from others who interact with the subject of conditional forgiveness.

5 Problems With Unconditional Forgiveness – Numerous problems arise when we encourage cheap grace. Here are 5 examples

Should I confront an offender or just get over it? – What should be confronted? What should be let go? This post will help you work through the question of when to confront.

How can I stop thinking about it? – The “mental gerbil wheel” is one of the most difficult aspects of deep offenses.

How can I forgive myself? – This is another forgiveness question people often raise.

Chris Brauns Review of Totally Forgiving God by R.T. Kendall – Is it okay for Christians to forgive God. Some authors argue there are times it is appropriate. In this review for The Gospel Coalition I interact with R.T. Kendall’s book.

I am again privileged to be part of the Haddon Robinson Study Retreat. This we are studying the Old Testament books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah under the instruction of Wheaton’s Danny Carroll.

Each year a group of pastors gather for a week of intense study Covenant Harbor Camp near Lake Geneva, WI . Our format is simple. We invite a world-class scholar to teach us on one or more books of the Bible. As we are taught on a technical level, we collaborate to envision how to preach the Scripture we are studying to our congregations.

We were inspired by Dr. Haddon Robinson to begin this retreat. Haddon is one of the most influential teachers of homiletics (preaching) in the English speaking world in the last 100 years. Most of us who are part of this retreat studied under Haddon. All share a commitment to the clear proclamation of God’s Word.

Participants are thankful for a family who underwrite part of the cost of our retreat. We are also thankful for our churches that value the opportunity for their pastors to get away from our many responsibilities for a time of intense focus on the Word.

Our group comes from all over North America. If you click through to the interactive map, you will see that we have participants who come from everywhere from Edmonton to South Carolina. Combined, we have hundreds of years of pastoral experience.

Jamie and I didn’t formally catechize our children. Though we did spend a great deal of time with them in theological instruction and dialogue. But I agree with Tim Keller’s points and if we had it to do over again, I think we would. 

Witness how a grandfather sees color for the first time. Then consider how great will be the Christian’s joy when not just one malady is cured, but EVERY hurt is healed– in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor 15:52). 

Christ’s resurrection assures Christians that we will also share in his resurrection (1 Cor 15:20). Those who have died in Christ will rise in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Our new resurrection bodies will be cured of all aches. The lame will walk. The blind will see.

This man’s response is the tiniest preview of what it will be like to have a new resurrection body.

For more reflection on this point, see Steve Dewitt’s post, Resurrection Characteristics of Christ’s Body (And Ours As Well)

Second Corinthians 5:10 encourages believers with the certainty of the approaching judgment seat of Christ. Paul wrote:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5:10

Given that those who put their faith in Christ are saved strictly on the basis of what Christ has done (Rom 8:1, Eph 2:2-9), how are we to understand Paul’s teaching that Christians will receive what is due us for deeds done in the body?

In his book, A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 1-6), Volume 1: 100 Daily Meditations on 2 Corinthians, Sam Storms makes 10 helpful observations about the judgment seat of Christ. These points are abridged (pages 140-145). You will need to consult the book to hear his full argument for each point.

  1. Who is to be judged? The broader context of 2 Corinthians 4-5 suggests that only believers are in view.
  1. What is the nature or purpose of the judgment? Eternal destiny is not at issue; eternal reward is.
  1. When does the judgment occur? Paul doesn’t seem concern to specify when. The most that we can be sure of is that it happens after death.
  1. Take note of the inevitability of judgment for everyone. This is not a day that can be set aside as irrelevant or unnecessary. It is essential for God to bring to consummation his redemptive purpose and to fully honor the glory of his name among his people. No one is exempt. Paul himself anticipated standing at this judgment . . .
  1. Paul emphasizes the individuality of the judgment (“each one). As important as it is to stress the corporate and communal nature of our life as the body of Christ, each person will be judged individually (no doubt, at least in part, concerning how faithful each person was to his corporate responsibilities!)
  1. Observe the mode or maner of this judgment (“we must all appear”). We do not merely “show up” at the judgment seat of Christ but are laid bare before him. As Paul said in 1 Cor 4:5, the Lord “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart . . .”

Is it not sobering to think that every random thought, every righteous impulse, every secret prayer, hidden deed, long-forgotten sin, or act of compassion will be brought into the open for us to acknowledge and for the Lord to judge? But don’t forget: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).

  1. This judgment has an identity all its own (“judgment seat of Christ”).
  1. The judge himself is clearly identified (“judgment seat of Christ”). This is consistent with what we read in John 5:22 where Jesus said that “the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.”
  1. Of critical importance is the standard of judgment (“what he has done in the body, whether good or evil”). Reference to the “body” indicates that the judgment concerns what we do in this life not what may or may not be done during the time of the intermediate state itself.
  1. The result of the judgment is not explicitly stated but is certainly implied. All will “receive” whatever their deeds deserve. Paul is slightly more specific in 1 Corinthians 3:14-15: “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” The “reward” is not defined, and the likelihood is that the “loss” suffered is the “reward” that he or she would otherwise have received had they obeyed.

Sam concludes the chapter:

Two closing comments are in order. First, our deeds do not determine our salvation, but demonstrate it. They are not the root of our standing with God but the fruit of it, a standing already attained by faith in Christ alone. The visible evidence of an invisible faith are the “good” deeds that will be made know at the judgment seat of Christ.

Second, don’t be afraid that, with the exposure and evaluation of your deeds, regret and remorse will spoil the bliss of heaven. If there be tears of grief for opportunities squandered, or tears of shame for sins committed, he will wipe them away (Rev. 21:4). The ineffable joy of forgiving grace will swallow up all sorrow, and the beauty of Christ will blind you to anything other than the splendor of who he is and what he has, by grace, accomplished on your behalf.

See also:

9 Blessings that Result from Studying the Return of Jesus

13 End Times Errors to Avoid

St. Titus “The Tough”

Chris —  March 7, 2017

Spiritual leadership requires guts and grit. You have to be tough to lead. Consider the biblical example of Titus.

When I left the corporate world and went to seminary, I pictured spiritual leaders as clean cut guys in starched white shirts and blue suits. I understood that spiritual leadership wasn’t always easy. I knew that piety was essential. But I didn’t think much about the need for a spiritual leader to be a gladiator.

You might wonder how I missed what was so obvious in Scripture. Had I read about Moses? Or David? Or Jesus! Didn’t I know that Paul wrote to the Ephesians that we are in a spiritual war?

I would have said at the time I knew toughness was important. But I didn’t really know. The dusty world of the Biblical slingshots, Roman soldiers, and stonings seemed so far removed from our modern age.

Twenty six years later I’ve realized what I should have known all along: spiritual leaders are walking the way of the cross. The face of spiritual leadership looks a lot more like the image to the right of Wisconsin wrestler Isaac Jordan (from The Faces of College Wrestling) than that of a button-downed executive. To be a spiritual leader is to go to the front lines of a war. Figurative bruises and black eyes are sure to come. Bloody lips are part of the call.

And the more bruises I get as a leader, the more I can relate to the guts and grit of the biblical leader Titus. If I had deeply understood more about Titus when I began in spiritual leadership, I would not have been so surprised the first time I got flattened.

On the one hand, we know little about the first century church leader Titus. He is not mentioned in Acts. Some have speculated that Luke omitted Titus’s name because he and Luke were brothers: an intriguing theory, but only a guess.

Outside of Acts, Titus’s name appears 13 times in the New Testament (2 Cor 2:13, 7:6, 7:13, 7:14, 8:6, 8:16, 8:23, 12:18, Gal 2:1, 3, 2 Tim 4:10, Titus 1:4). From those passages, we can sketch a preliminary picture. Titus was Greek and one of Paul’s converts (Titus 1:4). He became one of Paul’s most trusted partners and maybe the toughest.

The case for Titus’s toughness is built by reflecting on four assignments entrusted to Titus by the Apostle Paul.

First, Titus represented uncircumcised Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. . . But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Gal 2:1, 3

In 50 AD Paul received a special revelation from God that he should travel to Jerusalem for a meeting that was sure to be a showdown. The central question in view was the matter of circumcision. For more than 2,000 years the people of the living God were circumcised as a covenant sign of their relationship with God. Now, under the jurisdiction of the New Covenant, it was rightly argued that circumcision was not required (Gal 2:1-10). The matter was a tremendously contentious issue for the early church. For Titus to go — as something of the token uncircumcised Gentile — meant the authenticity of his faith would be scrutinized and questioned by articulate and combative Judaizers. 

Second, Titus was Paul’s messenger and intermediary with Corinth.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 2 Cor 8:16

Given its location, the church at Corinth was of strategic importance. Yet, it was full of problems (see 1, 2 Corinthians). The relationship between Paul and the church at Corinth was strained to say the least. Indeed, Paul had so severely rebuked the Corinthians that he wasn’t sure if they were up to another round of correction directly administered by him (2 Cor 2:1). Instead, Paul gave Titus the job of delivering Paul’s severe or sorrowful letter.

Titus delivery of Paul’s severe letter to the Corinthians couldn’t have been a pretty scene. The Corinthians expected that Paul would be arriving in person. Doubtless, those who supported Paul were disappointed to hear he wouldn’t be coming. On the other hand, Paul’s opponents seized on his absence to accuse Paul of breaking his word.

To make matters even more difficult, Titus’ role as messenger included the task of taking up a collection for other young churches (2 Cor 8-9). It takes a tough leader to relay the message of a rebuke while also leading a giving campaign.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating the difficulty of Titus’ assignment, notice, Paul was by no means sure that things would go well. He was so distressed about how things went for Titus that when Titus did not return as expected, Paul left a ministry opportunity and went looking for him in Macedonia (2 Cor 2:12-13). After hearing good news from Titus when he found him, Paul asked Titus to deliver 2 Corinthians.

Biblical scholars believe that Titus probably represented Paul to the Corinthians on three different occasions. And given that 1,2 Corinthians are in the New Testament today, our sense is that Titus was effective in his role. Even so, he took some body blows.

Third, Titus traveled with Paul for extended periods of time.

As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 2 Cor 8:23

To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. Titus 1:4

As seen above, Titus was with Paul at the Council of Jerusalem (50 AD). He was a key intermediary with the church at Corinth (51-56 AD). We also know that Titus accompanied Paul to Crete (62-64 AD). Putting all of this together, it is also reasonable to assume that Titus was at Paul’s side (or representing Paul) for a large part of Paul’s ministry. Partnering with Paul was one of the toughest ministry assignments ever. Beatings, shipwrecks, or death were never far away. Yet, Titus persevered.

Fourth, Titus stayed behind in Crete to deal with troublemakers and appoint leaders.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—Titus 1:5

While the book of Acts does not document a missions visit by Paul to Crete, we know from Titus 1:5 that Paul and Titus visited Crete together. The traditional understanding is that Paul was released from his first imprisonment in Rome and he and Titus made a missions trip to Crete. The gospel took root in Crete. But, as we learn from the book of Titus, Crete was a notoriously difficult culture. If the gospel cause was to go further, someone needed to stay behind, appoint qualified leaders, and take on divisive leaders. Paul chose “Titus the tough” to silence the circumcision group in Crete and to deal with other difficulties.

Almost 2,000 years later we don’t know what Titus looked like when he traveled to Jerusalem, Corinth, and Crete. But of this we can be sure. He was a warrior. He has a black eye or two. And so do all leaders who make a difference. To be a spiritual leader is to be called into a battle.

See also:

Grit: What Athletics Have to Do With Academic Success

The Bible Project on Titus

 

Second Corinthians (2 Cor 4:6), encourages believers with the truth that God who created all things has shown us “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In his book, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself, John Piper expands on what is meant by the “glory of Christ”: 

[Christ’s] glory, in his first coming, was the incomparably exquisite array of spiritual, moral, intellectual, verbal, and practical perfections that manifest themselves in a kind of meek miracle-working and unanswerable teaching and humble action that set Jesus apart from all men. Each of Jesus deeds and words and attitudes was glorious, but is the way they come together in beautiful summation . . . an exquisite array — that constitutes his glory.

But the climax of his glory on earth was the way it ended. It was as if all the darker colors in the spectrum of glory came together in the most beautiful sunset on Good Friday, with the crucified Christ as the blood-red sun in the crimson sky. And it was as if all the brighter colors in the spectrum of glory came together in the most beautiful sunrise on Easter morning, with the risen Christ as the golden sun shining in full strength. Both the glory of the sunset and the glory of the sunrise shone on the horizon of a lifetime of incomparably beautiful love. This is what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 4:4 when he spoke of “the glory of Christ.” It is the glory of a person. But the person displays his glory in words and actions and feelings. The glory is not the glory of a painting or even a sunset. Those are only analogies. They are too static and lifeless.

The spiritual beauty of Christ is Christ-in-action—Christ loving, and Christ touching lepers, and Christ blessing children, and healing the crippled, and raising the dead, and commanding demons, and teaching with unrivaled authority, and silencing the skeptics, and rebuking his disciples, and predicting the details of his death, and setting his face like flint toward Jerusalem, and weeping over the city, and silent before his accusers, and meekly sovereign over Pilate (“You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above,” John 19:11), and crucified, and praying for his enemies, and forgiving a thief, and caring for his mother while in agony, and giving up his spirit in death, and rising from the dead—“No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). Such is the glory of Christ.

John Piper’s, God is the Gospel, is available for free as a pdf.

Lent: Questions and Answers

Chris —  February 28, 2017

Pastor Chris Brauns from the Red Brick Church with questions and answers about Lent.Lent – What is it? 

Lent is the 40 period (less Sundays) before Easter and is based on Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness. Some Christians fast, think soberly about their faith, and focus on repenting of their sins during this period.

Does The Red Brick Church observe Lent? 

No. We do not follow a formal liturgical calendar.

Is it wrong to observe Lent? 

No. There are advantages of intentionally focusing on Christ for a season. Fasting and praying should certainly be encouraged. See: Focus on Fasting

What “dangers” or misunderstandings might come with Lent observance? 

The dangers to avoid are essentially the same dangers to avoid when fasting (giving up some legitimate practice for a season to focus on God). When we fast, it is easy to allow a works mentality to creep into how we see our relationship with God. Said another way, we can consciously or unconsciously begin to believe that we are asking God to bless us because we are giving  something up.

The Christians confidence should never be on our effort but rather on the Gospel or Good News of what God has done for those who put their faith and trust in him. 

If, during Lent, I want to grow on being more centered on Jesus, how should I go about it? 

Three suggestions:

  1. Prayerfully read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Meditate on Jesus in his Word.
  2. Read The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived to gain a clearer picture of Holy Week. For more on this recommendation, see my post, 7 Reasons to Read the Final Days of Jesus.
  3. Read my small, unedited booklet, Surveying the Cross: Pursuing An Increasingly Cross-Centered Life During Lent, that highlights a strategy for being more Cross-centered during Lent. Please note that the links are for my own use and don’t work in the pdf version. Essentially, this document is a copy of my study notes. 

I started reading this the article, Man in the Middle, by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra because I have long appreciated Dr. David Dockery’s leadership in evangelicalism. But as I began reading, I realized that this piece tells a far bigger story than Dr. Dockery’s personal journey. Rather, Dr. Dockery’s experiences offer a lens through which we can consider evangelicalism’s story in North America over the last 50 years. Dr. Dockery has had a front row seat — and place in the ring — and invested his life — regarding debates and violence involving theological liberalism and racism. 

David Dockery, president of Trinity International University, knows the feeling of exhaustion. His wife, Lanese, gave birth to their three boys in three years. While he was president at Union University, one student shot another, and an EF4 tornado tore through while half of the students were on campus.

But the most emotionally exhausting day in his life came on January 24, 1992.

“It was one of the happiest days and one of the saddest days of our lives jammed together,” he said.

For Dockery, January 24 started early. His commute to downtown Nashville normally took about 20 minutes. Although he was an assistant professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, he was on loan to the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board (precursor to LifeWay Christian Resources) in order to serve as the general editor for the New American Commentary series.

But that Friday the drive was three hours, and took him up Interstate 65 back home to the SBTS campus in Louisville.

Read the rest here

Sunday (D.V.), I am preaching on 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, and the pattern of sanctification. Below are some of my favorite passages on sanctification as well as key quotes that summarize what we believe about how Christians are sanctified or increasingly conformed to the image of Christ. It took me over 20 years to collect these. . .

“We try to change ourselves. We take what we think are the tools of spiritual transformation into our own hands and try to sculpt ourselves into robust Christlike specimens. But spiritual transformation is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Master Sculptor . . . Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.” (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, Colorado Springs (NavPress, 1994), 11,13).

“The root meaning of the word ‘character’ refers to something cut or engraved into an object, that marks its unmistakably for what is. So it is with moral character: it persists day aft day whatever happens. It is not just a collection of occasional behaviors or of good intentions that never get implemented, but it is what I am solidly through and through, a matter of the heart . . . someone who is ‘true blue,’ solid all the way through, all the time, inwardly and outwardly alike, we say has moral character, a moral identity of his own. But character does not just grow like Topsy; it must be carefully, painstakingly cultivated (Holmes, Shaping Character, 59).”

“We believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness; that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Sealer and Comforter, in the continual use of the appointed means–especially the Word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, and prayer (“THE NEW HAMPSHIRE BAPTIST CONFESSION, (1833), DECLARATION OF FAITH, X. OF SANCTIFICATION” Grudem, 1198).

The New Testament does not suggest any short-cuts by which we can grow in sanctification, but simply encourages us repeatedly to give ourselves to the old-fashioned, time-honored means for Bible reading and meditation (Ps. 1:3; Matt. 4:4, 17:17), prayer (Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6), worship (Eph. 5:18-20), witnessing (Matt 28:19-20), Christian fellowship (Heb. 10:24-25), and self-discipline or self-control (Gal. 5:23; Titus 1:8). (Grudem, 755).

“We may define sanctification as that gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, involving our responsible participation, by which he delivers us from the pollution of sin, renews our entire nature according to the image of God, and enables us to live lives that are pleasing to him (Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 192).”

“Sanctification, says the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.35), is ‘the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.’ The concept is not of sin being totally eradicated (that is to claim too much) or merely counteracted (that is to say too little), but of a divinely wrought character change freeing us from sinful habits and forming in us Christlike affections, dispositions, and virtues (Packer, 169, Concise Theology).”

“Although the work of strengthening holy dispositions is chiefly a divine and not a human work, believers must cooperate with grace by the proper use of spiritual means. These include the Word of God, the sacraments, prayer, the constant exercise of faith, confession of sins, and providential discipline (Lewis and Demarest, Vol. 3, 187).”

“…God effects the work [of the Holy Spirit] in part through the instrumentality of man as a rational being, by requiring of him prayerful and intelligent co-operation with the Spirit. That man must co-operate with the Spirit of God follows: (a) from the repeated warnings against evils and temptations…and (b) from the constant exhortations to holy living (Berkhof, 534).”

“Sanctification takes place partly in the subconscious life, and as such is an immediate operation of the Holy Spirit; but also partly in the conscious life, and then depends on the use of certain means, such as the constant exercise of faith, the study of God’s Word, prayer and association with other believers (Berkhof, 534).”

“And, indeed, this restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year; but through continual and sometimes even slow advances God wipes out in his elect the corruptions of the flesh, cleanses them of guilt, consecrates them to himself as temples renewing all their minds to true purity that they may practice repentance through their lives and know that this warfare will end only at death (Calvin, Institutes., 3.3.9, page 601).”

“All true knowledge of God is born out of obedience.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, quoted in CT, 1/10/2000, page 78).

“It is the grace of God only that will secure us, and that grace is to be expected only in the use of the means of grace. (Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997).

But we have no reason to be afraid if we are on the Lord’s side. Appropriation of that strength comes through the means of grace (MacArthur, John F., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press) 1983).