The Plane Truth – Redefining Faith #2

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The Plane Truth - Redefining Faith #2
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In this episode we revisit the idea of interpreting Scripture literally, arguing that obeying whatever seems to be a “plain sense” reading of Scripture can be harmful, ignoring the context and the literary aspects of the Bible. But the gospel is our guide to reading Scripture the way it was meant to be read.

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth – Redefining Faith #1

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Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth - Redefining Faith #1
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In a post-Christian world, clarifying the gospel will require the correction of misconceptions. In this episode, we redefine the notion of biblical inerrancy.

One Seat on the Throne

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One Seat on the Throne
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In the kingdom of God, there’s only one seat on the throne.

In “One Seat on the Throne,” Alex, Kent, and Nathan look at God’s plan for leadership under the gospel and conclude that God doesn’t need human control to protect his people.

“One Seat on the Throne” – Episode Notes:

It may sound strange to talk about letting God rule. Is he not sovereign over his creation? Doesn’t he have the wisdom to hand down righteous decrees and the power to enforce them? Won’t he eventually call all people to account?

God rules creation and orchestrates history, but he won’t force anyone under his reign. We won’t experience his rule in our lives until we submit ourselves to him – until we let him rule. Any despot can make people conform but God is no despot. He deserves the job of universal ruler, but he won’t impose his will on the unwilling. This is true of individuals and groups. The gospel invites individuals under God’s reign, but it also grants them the opportunity to reject him. The Holy Spirit has come to guide the church, but we can grieve, quench, and despise his leading.[i]

If it’s up to us to let God rule, how can we ensure that’s what we do?

Since we are realized Israel, let’s look to the history of our nation to learn how God wants to rule his kingdom.

“I will restore your judges.”

Do you remember that time Israel deposed God in a coup?

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.” (1 Samuel 8:4-8 NIV)

Israel’s demand for a king wasn’t just a rejection of Samuel or even of the office of judge which Samuel held, it was a rejection of God as their king. God responded to this insult by agreeing to give them a king. This exchange demonstrates God’s insistence that people obey him willingly.

God told Samuel that Israel had rejected him as king from the day he brought them out of Egypt. God became Israel’s king through the defeat of Pharaoh and his gods. At Mount Sinai he declared them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, his own treasured possession. He gave them his law. He provided for their needs. His Presence remained among them to guide them and to enforce his law. He put his Spirit on Moses to empower and enable him to serve as a judge among them. When the job got too big for Moses, God took some of the Spirit that was on him and distributed it among seventy(two) elders[1] who then judged Israel with him. This was God’s administration over his own kingdom.

This governmental structure continued in Israel as they entered the land of promise. God’s Presence went ahead of them as the Commander of the LORD’s Army[ii] to conquer the land. His provision changed from manna to the produce of the land. By his Spirit, he enabled Joshua to succeed Moses as leader of the people. Neither Moses nor Joshua took the title of king because God continued to rule as king over Israel. Moses and Joshua served as stewards in God’s kingdom.[iii] They moved under God’s explicit instructions and wielded his power to carry out his will.  

After the death of Joshua, the Messenger of God’s Presence continued to rule as king in Israel. In the book of Judges, we find him walking around in Canaan rebuking the nation from a mountain top, accosting Gideon from under an oak tree, setting stuff on fire, telling a woman how to raise her kid, and hitching a ride on a plume of smoke. He enforced his law directly by raising up the nations in the land to punish Israel. Once the nation learned its lesson, God’s Spirit empowered judges to deliver them from their oppressors. It was a time of miracles and personal freedom, but that freedom proved too much for Israel to bear.

By the end of the book of Judges we find the nation on the brink of total collapse resulting from sin’s corrosive influence. God’s call was to each person to fear him and obey his law. In this way they could live together in peace with no need to be controlled by earthly leaders. But Israel was still made up of fallen people. Through two horrific tales of religious and moral degradation we find the refrain, “There was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” God had set his people free, but their rebellious hearts turned that freedom into anarchy. God gave them a king at their request because each person’s rejection of him as their personal king was destroying the nation.

I think it’s noteworthy that once God gave Israel their king, he stopped appearing bodily in Israel as the Messenger of Yahweh. God had ruled directly as king in Israel from the time of Moses through the era of the judges. All the while Israel had resisted God’s reign, so he gave them a human king according to their request. This wasn’t God’s first choice for them because he knew that power corrupts and that nearly all their kings would mislead the nation. It was to a corrupt kingdom of Israel that Isaiah penned these words:

Your princes are rebels

and companions of thieves.

Everyone loves a bribe

and runs after gifts.

They do not bring justice to the fatherless,

and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

Therefore the Lord declares,

the LORD of hosts,

the Mighty One of Israel:

“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies

and avenge myself on my foes.

I will turn my hand against you

and will smelt away your dross as with lye

and remove all your alloy.

And I will restore your judges as at the first,

and your counselors as at the beginning.

Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,

the faithful city.” (Isaiah 1:23-26 ESV)

God would remediate Israel’s corruption by resuming his role as king in a return to the era of the judges. I believe that era has commenced with the exaltation of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Our God Reigns

Jesus promised that some in his audience would see the kingdom of God come with power.[iv] On the day of Pentecost that promise was fulfilled. In Christ, God has resumed his direct reign over his people. Like in the era of the judges, Christ, the Messenger of Yahweh lives among us. Unlike the era of the judges Christ also lives within us. Like in the era of the judges, God has given his law. Unlike that time, this law is written on our hearts by his own Spirit. As under the Moses, Joshua, and the judges God personally punishes wrongdoers like Ananias and Saphira.[v] And true to his word he has restored Spirit-empowered ad hoc leaders, judges, over his people.

Judges aren’t kings. They have spiritual authority instead of positional authority. Just like Gideon’s leadership was contingent on the power of God or Deborah’s on her ability to prophesy, so Paul based his authority on God’s power at work in him. Consider Paul’s leadership credentials in the following passage:

I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. (2 Corinthians 12:11-12 NIV)

But what if some despised his authority or what if they were rebellious? How could Paul as God’s regent enforce his word?

I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.

This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (2 Corinthians 13:2-3, 10 NIV)

Paul didn’t have or need organizational endorsement. His suffering for Christ and the power of the Spirit were his credentials. As Christ’s duly appointed representative, he warned them that if they didn’t repent, he would once again demonstrate Christ’s power to punish their wrongs. He didn’t need a majority vote to carry out church discipline because Christ had given him authority and Christ would do the disciplining.

It’s important that we acknowledge the only legitimate authority in God’s kingdom is that which flows powerfully from Christ. As his Spirit-enabled leaders wield that authority he remains king and they are spared the corruption that comes with office. In the era of the judges a person didn’t need to wonder whether God endorsed the judge. The evident power of God with them was his endorsement. This system is self-regulating as Paul wrote, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.” (2 Corinthians 13:8 NIV)

Lest we think Paul and the other apostles possessed a unique leadership dispensation, we should consider that Paul expected other would-be leaders to put their power where their mouth is.

Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit? (1 Corinthians 4:18-21 NIV)

God’s promise through Isaiah to restore the judges was a promise to resume direct reign over his kingdom. Kings command; but judges minister. Paul’s authority came from the power of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t expect other people to defer to him based on his title but on his work. He was an apostle because God had empowered him to perform that role. Leaders in the kingdom of God don’t resort to positional authority to make God’s people obey them. They minister their God-given gifts to feed and protect God’s flock.

The ancient judges were empowered by God to serve their generation and not to build a dynasty. Christ rules his kingdom and will never pass it on to another, so leadership succession has been done away. We have the same Holy Spirit today as Paul or Peter or James did. What possible need could we have for “apostolic succession”? We can certainly benefit from the gifting of those men through reading the New Testament, but we shouldn’t allow their rulings to set timeless precedent while the king continues to reign in our midst. We have the gospel which is the very spirit of prophecy.[vi] Can it not teach us something for today? Might God not raise up Spirit-empowered teachers and prophets to share mighty truths for our generation? We want to borrow authority from the apostles, but the source of their authority belongs to us today.

Let me be very clear. Every hierarchical church, denomination, association, or alliance is an affront to God’s kingdom reign. They arise from the same faithlessness that caused Israel to ask for a king. They traffic in contrived authority which they generate, define, and celebrate according to the rudimentary principles of this world. “Let us build,” they say, “and make a name for ourselves. Lest all our progress die with our generation and our legacy be scattered to the wind.”   

Someone might defend Christian institutions by pointing to the need to defend the church from heresy. That thinking supposes God needs our help to defend his gospel.

A great house with a firm foundation

When the Reformers elevated the Bible to the place of final authority in place of the Catholic hierarchy, the Christian movement immediately began to fracture. Differing interpretations became the bases for various sects. To combat this proliferation of Christian variants they codified their biblical interpretations into creeds and catechisms. Sects trained new leaders in their version of orthodoxy. Those leaders were then ordained to indoctrinate their parishioners in the same. In this system, everyone must be told in detail what to believe. The transition from church authority to biblical authority produced yet another form of ecclesiastical control. Inclusion required conformity. Dissent brought expulsion.

While the authors of the New Testament seem to have been concerned about heresy, their methods indicate a different perspective on protecting orthodoxy. For instance, leaders who took upon themselves to throw doctrinal dissenters out of the Christian community were seen as unorthodox. Diotrephes was such a leader and John censured him for his actions:

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. (3 John 10-11 NIV)

John certainly took exception to Diotrephes’ slander, but he counted his top-down control of church membership the greater offense. By way of contrast, consider Paul’s response to reports of factions in the Corinthian church:

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (1 Corinthians 11:17-19 ESV)

Paul never attempted to control the composition of any congregation. In this time before the return of Christ we long for unity and work toward it, but we also know that divisions will persist. Because God is sovereign even factions will come to serve his greater purpose. They will serve as a backdrop to highlight the glory of his gospel. The heretics and hypocrites in the church have job to do as well. Consider how Paul depicts the purpose of even false believers in God’s household:

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. (2 Timothy 2:16-21 NIV)

Notice that even though Paul doesn’t mince words about the status of these false teachers he also assumes that they and their ilk will be present in the church. Not only will they be present but God has placed them there and has a place for them there. One of the greatest challenges to letting go of biblicism to follow the gospel standard has always been the fear of heresy. Paul could live above a prescriptive, written standard because he didn’t entertain the pretense that he had the power or even the right to extinguish heresy. Paul knew that Christ was on the throne and there was only one seat there. That’s still true today. If we find false teachers among us, we surely can’t believe it’s because Christ needs us to remove them. We must commit to submitting to his kingdom authority over our own lives and over the life of the church.


[1] In Numbers 11:10-30 God called out seventy elders to share the burden of leadership with Moses. When he poured out his Spirit on them, they all prophesied. In addition to those seventy, another two prophesied in the camp.


[i] Verses on don’t grieve or quench the Spirit and not to despise prophecy

[ii] Joshua 5:13-15

[iii] Numbers 12:7

[iv] Mark 9:1

[v] Acts 5:1-9

[vi] Revelation about the gospel is the spirit of prophecy.

Three Tips for Growth

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We continue discussing how to retool discipleship with three tips for growth.

In “Three Tips for Growth” Alex, Kent, and Nathan discuss some gospel-based practices for churches to disciple their members.

Three Tips for Growth – Episode Notes:

How do we minister the living experience of the gospel to one another? While an exhaustive list of possible ministry activities would be difficult if not impossible to produce, there seem to be some basic practices mentioned in the New Testament which the church would do well to adopt until it becomes skilled enough in the word to innovate.

Below, I will list and unpack three New Testament ministry practices from a gospel perspective. They are:

  • Corporate Prayer
  • Gospel Rehearsal
  • Loving Confrontation

I’ll survey each practice in turn.

Corporate Prayer

The Christian life consists of obedience to the gospel. We can’t obey it directly, though, since it is simply the announcement about Christ. We obey the gospel when we conduct our lives in response to reality as the gospel reveals it. When Paul wrote, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (Ephesians 4:25 NIV) he rooted his truthfulness ethic in the gospel rather than simply saying, “Don’t lie.”

Since the gospel is the message of reconciliation between sinners and God, it calls forth prayer from its very core. A believer can obey the gospel at any time simply by praying confidently to God her Father. Through prayer, we identify with the experience of Christ and we enter our own experience of the Father. Disciples pray and the act of praying disciples.

While any believer can pray powerfully at any time, there seems to be a particular benefit to praying together. Through the book of Acts, the disciples gathered regularly to pray. Indeed, it was the first thing they did together after Christ’s ascension. When they were threatened, they came together to pray. When Peter was imprisoned the church gathered to pray. In the first Gentile church, prayer activated the missionary enterprise:

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

(Acts 13:1-3 NIV)

These were teachers in the church who weren’t too busy teaching to pray. I get the sense that this gathering of five had spent quite a bit of time addressing God together before the Holy Spirit spoke. Then, after his commission, they spent more time in fasting and prayer. These men were called to teach and preach, but prayer was their central focus.

Corporate prayer gets things done, but the practice of corporate prayer also builds disciples. As we pray together, we expand our vision of what God might do through us. That vision, in turn, pulls us to pray for his guidance and supply. As the disciples witness God perform his own will through them, their faith grows exponentially.

Notice the interplay between Christlike love, confidence before God, and effective prayer in this passage from 1 John:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.

1 John 3:16-22 NIV

Notice how faith and love orbit a life of prayer and increase with every revolution. Think of a believer who has enough material goods for today and tomorrow encountering a sister in Christ who doesn’t have enough for today. He obeys the gospel and gives her what he has for tomorrow. That act of giving causes joy and confidence to flood his heart. From that confidence, he asks God to supply his needs for tomorrow. When that prayer is answered his faith grows, prompting him to do more acts of love and the cycle begins again.

Gospel Rehearsal

Nobody in God’s kingdom needs to be taught, but we often need reminding. The gospel is an alien presence in our hearts and in our midst. Our previous tendencies threaten to reject its graft into our hearts. The surrounding society entices and coerces us to compromise this message that refuses black-and-white norms. In short order, we can begin to convert the gospel rather than allowing it to convert us.

The early church seems to have gathered to rehearse the essence of the gospel by various means. This aspect of church life is depicted in elegant detail in this passage:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

(Colossians 3:16 NIV)

The gospel lives at the center of the faith community as they gather to celebrate it in a spiritual dance with God and one another. We gather to celebrate our salvation, compare notes, and remind each other where to find true north. The Christ hymns which we can find in Paul’s letters seem to have been designed to facilitate gospel rehearsal. Here is one such hymn as an example:

Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.

(2 Timothy 2:11-13 NIV)

This hymn both recites the essence of the gospel and encourages faithfulness to it. The last stanzas strongly suggest a movement under pressure to renounce Christ. Believers in such circumstances would need to gather to remind one another of the truth and their stake in it.

We need to rehearse the gospel to keep it from accommodating culture or serving our sensibilities. The church has been tasked with upholding the gospel but often usurps it instead. Rather than preserve its integrity she’s given birth to twisted perversions like sacramentalism, easy believism, the social gospel, liberation theology, and the prosperity gospel. Should the church become once again subject to the gospel it will again produce powerful disciples as it provides the place to rehearse its simple truth.

Loving confrontation

Sin is insidious. Scripture wastes no time depicting it as a beast waiting to consume the unwary. In Genesis 4:7, God warns Cain:

 “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

(NIV)

There’s an enemy at the gate, but it presents itself as a friend. An injustice stirs righteous indignation that hardens into judgment. Compassion becomes control. Relational reciprocity becomes indebtedness and then personal compromise. Workaholism demolishes lives under the banner of a high calling.

Not only does sin operate in secret, but its operation also dulls our awareness of its presence. We, like Cain, must be wary of sin before it has come through the door lest it becomes our welcome guest. We also need others to minister God’s warning to us in real-time. We need proactive accountability.

The church values accountability in theory but fails in execution. Retrospectives of the fall of Ravi Zacharias or Mark Driscoll condemn their opacity. More troubling, their inner circle protected their secrecy. Accountability among the rank and file is more selective. Churches publicly brand someone for adultery while turning a blind eye to the questionable business practices of a major donor. This double standard indicates the core malfunction in church accountability which is a fundamental misunderstanding of sin.

We hesitate to confront others when we define sin as a violation of a written standard. Since a standard has been broken, accountability must come with accusation. As with the secular legal system, we’re slow to prosecute unless the optics of the situation require that we do. We don’t want “to make a federal case” out of gossip when this sin seems so common. Wouldn’t it be more “grace based” to model the right behavior without pointing any fingers? Besides, aren’t we all sinners without legitimate stones to throw? But that’s just the problem, we see confrontation as an injury while the New Testament writers saw it as protection and help.

We can align our view of accountability with that of the first Christians when we return to the gospel standard. Since there is no condemnation in Christ, we have no basis to accuse each other. We no longer ask whether our brother’s actions were lawful because such a question is nonsensical for God’s children. Without prohibitions, the more challenging question emerges, “Is it helpful?” This type of confrontation elicits no shame over the past because it concerns itself with progress toward our shared goal.

Without the trauma and trepidation of prosecution, we’re free to weave confrontation into our ordinary life as a community. While infractions and accusations create upheaval, loving confrontation smooths the road and energizes the recipient. Why wouldn’t we share and receive it liberally?

An American Christian who maintains a basic moral veneer may never experience confrontation today. How different that experience is from the advice of Hebrews:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

(Hebrews 3:12-15 ESV)

We are not under a law of works but a law of faith. Rather than concerning ourselves with prohibitions we attend to one continuous imperative, “Believe.” That’s the law of faith. This law doesn’t require prescribed penalties because it’s self-enforcing. Unbelieving actions produce unbelieving hearts which exclude themselves from eternal life. This hardening can begin in a moment and happen at any time. So, the author of Hebrews calls on believers to warn each other on the day of rebellion – the day called, “today.”

Each disciple needs the church to help them faithfully follow the path marked out by Christ. That’s a practical principle of the gospel.

Obey the Gospel

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We must obey the gospel because it is the final standard in all matters of faith and life.

In “Obey the Gospel,” the Three Failed Pastors discuss the Christian system as guided not by a written text but by an oral announcement.


“Obey the Gospel” Episode Notes:

In saying that the gospel is the final authority for all matters of Christian faith and practice I have intentionally coopted the formula traditionally applied to the Bible.[1] The church must look to the gospel and not to the Bible as the authoritative guide for the individual Christian and as the basis of unity within the Christian movement.

In this section we will:

  • Survey the failings of the Bible as the authoritative guide
  • Outline God’s intent for a scriptural use of Scripture
  • Make a biblical case for the gospel as our standard
  • Explore the practical implications of making the switch.  

The Bible won’t cut it.

Astute readers will instantly recognize the irony of the heading above. It’s common in Christian vernacular to refer to the Bible as a sword. We make the association based on a couple of iconic scriptures:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17 NIV)

“Word of God” in the Hebrews verse obviously refers to the Scriptures available to the author since he (or she) had been expounding Psalm 95 just prior. Paul in the Ephesian passage refers to something else since this preliterate Gentile church didn’t have access to a leather-bound volume they could wave around. That should be obvious at least to Bible scholars. As we will see not only does “word of God” refer to something else in Ephesians, none of the instances of its use in Paul’s writings refer to the Bible.
As nearly as we can tell, the passage in Hebrews is the only place in the New Testament where Scripture (not including the New Testament) is specifically called “the word of God.”

If this is the case (and we will prove that it is) why does every Christian everywhere immediately envision a gold-leafed volume whenever “word of God” is uttered? We contend that the association has come down from the Reformers and not from the apostles. Not only is the doctrine of sola scriptura[2] unbiblical (ironically) it’s also destructive.

The letter kills

It has been said that rules were made to be broken. To that maxim I would add, “And it doesn’t matter who made them.” Far from being a sin deterrent, Paul describes God’s law as “the power of sin.”[i] He unpacks that shocking statement in Romans 7 where he describes three different laws weaving us into a web of sinful behavior. The law of sin is an innate rebellious tendency residing within each person. The law of sin becomes activated when it encounters the law of God. The law of God on one hand and the law of sin on the other pull the person in two. The inner self longs to be righteous but fallen physical person craves what is now forbidden. It seems that the writers of the New Testament conceived of death was the separation of body from spirit.[ii] So Paul aptly calls this personal disintegration “the law of death.” At the end of the chapter the tension forces Paul to cry out, “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”

As Paul repeatedly reminds his readers in Romans 7, there was nothing wrong with God’s law except who it was addressed to. And yet the repeated violation of God’s law was no indication that it had been given in vain. According to Romans 5:20a “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.” It doesn’t seem that God has ever been a moralist, but that he will even incite sin for a higher purpose:

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20b-21 NIV)

Grace doesn’t mitigate sin; it converts it to more grace. And having in desperation come for grace we find freedom from sin’s grip. Since the law is the power of sin, God’s grace breaks that power through this truth, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1 NIV)

These dynamics of sin, law, and death aren’t specific to the Torah. It’s not the content of the law but the nature of law that awakens sin and kills the sinner.[iii] We affirm that Scripture comes from God and is good, but that it can become deadly when used to produce a litany of religious rules.

While Protestant and evangelical traditions insist that salvation is by grace through faith apart from works, they’ve continued to formulate behavioral prescriptions from Bible passages. The church might agree that “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,” but not with the basis of that confidence which was:

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. (1 Corinthians 10:23 NASB95)

The church’s tendency to retain the Bible as a legal standard appears in the way the above verse is rendered in the NIV.[3]

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

Since nothing in the Greek text indicates a need for quotation marks around any part of this verse and with no Greek analogue to “you say” there must be some other reason why these additions were made to this translation.[iv] It seems obvious that it was to steer readers away from an antinomian reading of Paul. At yet, in so far as law is defined as written rules, Paul was antinomian. The gospel of grace cannot coexist with any written code.

How ironic that the church has turned Paul’s letters into the very thing he abhorred.

I have the right to do anything—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything—but not everything is constructive.

Much disputing

Nobody fully understands the Bible. We should, and do, suspect anyone who claims to. The church has spent two millennia collecting, rejecting, losing, canonizing, translating, updating, studying, and expositing a collection of writings by various authors we relate to less and less with the passage of time. While various attempts have been made to affirm the utility of Scripture because of divine aid, nobody has called off the interpretive enterprise citing the achievement of complete understanding. We find this dynamic among literary and even legal scholars, but their texts don’t carry the weight of divine authority. If the Bible is God’s standard, we don’t get to get it wrong and yet we’ve yet to get it right.

Since no one understands the Bible, no two people understand it exactly alike. If we really treated the Bible as our sole standard no congregations could exist because each person would find all others out of compliance with his or her interpretation. Unity among Christians only exists where the Bible has come under some other authority whether or not the group admits it. Denominations are built not on the Bible but on Bible interpreters. Historically, the more actual authority a group delegates to Scripture the less cohesive it becomes.[4]

It’s good that the Bible prohibits using the Bible as our standard since it also commands us to be unified.[v] According to Paul, the removal of a legal code was a precondition to unity among God’s redeemed people:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. (Ephesians 2:13-15a NIV)

It’s easy for the modern Christian to read this text and casually agree that requirements like circumcision needed to be removed to allow Gentiles to join Israel, but circumcision was no mere tradition or cultural phenomenon. Genesis 17 unequivocally decrees that uncircumcised males must be excluded from God’s people. If Scripture can be set aside for unity in one place, by what rationale do we make Scripture the arbiter of unity in another?

From the time Christians started treating the Bible as their supreme authority it has stood in the way of unity. The Colloquy of Marburg[vi] poignantly demonstrates the Bible’s ability to divide God’s people. Held just 12 years after Luther nailed up his 95 Theses, this meeting aimed at resolving a doctrinal difference over the unity feast of Christ – the eucharist. Martin Luther and Huldrich Zwingli were called together by German nobility to consolidate their respective reform movements. Of the 15 points of doctrine to be discussed at the colloquy, 14 were summarily accepted by both camps. On the 15th issue, the significance of communion, Luther chose “biblical authority” over his brother. With the New Testament as with the Old, the letter still kills, and the law still divides.


“Obey the Gospel” corrections:

In this episode, Nathan made up some statistics on the spot regarding mandatory drug sentencing for crack cocaine vs. cocaine powder. Here are the correct statistics:

The U.S. Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which allocated $1.7 billion to the War on Drugs and established a series of “mandatory minimum” prison sentences for various drug offenses. A notable feature of mandatory minimums was the massive gap between the amounts of crack and of powder cocaine that resulted in the same minimum sentence: possession of five grams of crack led to an automatic five-year sentence while it took the possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger that sentence. Since approximately 80% of crack users were African American, mandatory minimums led to an unequal increase of incarceration rates for nonviolent Black drug offenders, as well as claims that the War on Drugs was a racist institution.

“War on Drugs,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online

“Obey the Gospel” Footnotes:

[1] Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 3: “What is the Word of God?” Answer: “The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.”

[2] We understand that there are differences in the way various traditions define this doctrine, but we use it to refer to the belief that the Bible is the final authority by which all others must be evaluated.

[3] We don’t mean to pick on the NIV. It’s our preferred translation. But since it is recent and applies a functional equivalence method of translation, it sometimes displays the biases of contemporary biblical scholars.

[4] The “American Restoration Movement” grew out of the proposition that all human authority should be rejected in favor of a simple reading of Scripture. It immediately splintered into over 60 factions.


References:

[i] 1 Corinthians 15:56

[ii] James 2:26

[iii] 2 Corinthians 3:6

[iv] The NIV makes the same modifications in a parallel passage – 1 Corinthians 6:12

[v] Romans 15:5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 2:1-2

[vi] https://www.britannica.com/event/Colloquy-of-Marburg

Romans 7 Conversation

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Romans 7 Conversation
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A unique take on Romans 7

Spoiler: It’s not supposed to describe the normal Christian life.

At The Hour of My Death

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At The Hour of My Death
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In “At The Hour of My Death” the Three Failed Pastors consider the importance of real hope.

It doesn’t seem possible to find a substantial reason to achieve or to act morally without some expectation of continued consciousness beyond this life. In this final episode in our Faith That Works series, we explore the need and reasons for an eternal hope at the hour of my death.

On our journey of exploration, we travel through deep skepticism both over any real purpose for life and over any reason to believe in an afterlife. We’ll consider the implications of the recent debate over AI before surveying some conclusions reached in Plato’s Republic. At the end of the conversation, we’ll contend that the Christian hope is both necessary and reasonable.

Crazy Radical Legalism – DDWJWD Part 6

The WWJD fad flamed out almost two decades ago, so why talk about it?
While people no longer wear the plethora of merchandise, the ideal lives on. In fact, the teaching that Jesus, as he’s presented in the Gospels, ought to serve as the believer’s true north has made a resurgence over the past ten years.

Crazy-Love-Francis-Chan

Responding to consumerist megachurch trends, influential teachers like Francis Chan and David Platt have begun to call people back to the Gospels as the gold standard. Both men teach that Christians aren’t people who merely agree with traditional doctrines of the church, but rather are those who live like Jesus. To avoid the charge of legalism, they go through a few soteriological gymnastics. They say that people aren’t saved by works, but those who are saved will behave like Jesus did.¹ In other words, they challenge people to conform to a written standard to prove that they have been saved.

Tomato – toemahtoe.

I fear their efforts will push sincere believers into the self-righteous angst of every other legalist on the planet.

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Their books celebrate breathtaking examples of Christian devotion, but those examples can just as easily provide insecurity as they can inspiration. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira were moved to emulate the generosity of other believers and that didn’t work out so well for them. Such comparative Christianity divides the church into the judgmental accomplished and the resentful failures. And maybe everyone is a little of both.

I praise God for everyone who honestly has the faith to pray all night like Jesus did, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs to pray all night or to feel inferior because they can’t. I would love nothing more than to be among believers who were joyfully selling their property to share with the poor, but we’ll never get there under compulsion. We’re just not all at the same place in our faith and guilt never helps. If we’re going to avoid the (literally and figuratively) deadly mistake of Ananias and Sapphira, we’re going to need to pay attention to Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:3-8 NIV)

Rather than encourage everyone in the church to minister exactly like Jesus, Paul encourages them to express their unique gifts of grace commensurate to the measure of their faith as members of Christ’s body. No individual believer is the full embodiment of Christ. Together, we are his body. None of us has all faith. God has distributed faith among us, so we’ll partner with our spiritual family to see mighty works get done.

Unfortunately, the attempt to pressure each believer to live up to a crazy radical standard undermines the unity which expressing him as a body requires. The external conformity to behavioral precedent which Chan and Platt prescribe will always lead to comparison and judgment. Both authors look to passages like Matthew 7:21-23 to call into question the eternal destiny of those who don’t come up to their understanding of what Jesus would do. While Christ did teach that some on the Day of Judgment would face the ultimate disappointment, he never called us to question sincerity in others. It’s just not up to us to question whether another believer is a “real Christian.” When we begin to divide the church into “professing believers” and “real believers,” we’ve begun to do God’s work for him, and he’s never keen on that.

When it comes to determining who’s in and who’s out, we need only to ask what Christ requires of those seeking entrance into his family. We don’t need to look at someone’s performance to determine their fitness for the kingdom. We can’t possibly evaluate another person’s faith or sincerity. All we can do is “Accept one another, as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7) with the confidence that, “The Lord knows those who are his.” (2 Timothy 2:19)

Jesus said some extreme things in the Gospels about the cost of discipleship. I don’t mean to minimize those. I’m simply saying that practically speaking we can’t comb through every divided motive in ourselves or others in hopes of perfecting holiness. We can’t compare ourselves either favorably or un with other believers to make spiritual progress. That progress toward holiness comes through other means. Which I will tell you about in tomorrow’s post.


Footnote:

  1.  Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. Francis Chan. P.84; Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. David Platt. P.39

Every Third Person Wang Chung Tonight! DDWJWD Part 3

In 1986 pop music reach its zenith with the release of “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by the group, Wang Chung. Check out this excerpt to see what I mean:

Across the nation
Around the world
Everybody have fun tonight
A celebration so spread the word
Everybody have fun tonight
Everybody have fun tonight
Everybody Wang Chung tonight
Everybody have fun tonight
Everybody Wang Chung tonight
Everybody have fun tonight
Everybody have fun

Okay, so maybe it’s not a classic, but it was fun to sing especially for high school sophomores. One of my friends at the time couldn’t just sing along, though. Keith sat there thinking out loud, “What does it mean to Wang Chung? How do you do it? Is it a good idea for everybody to Wang Chung at the same time? If they do, what will happen to society? Wouldn’t it be more responsible to say, ‘Every third person Wang Chung tonight’?”

I never learned to Wang Chung and I’ve never met anyone who has. We needn’t petition Wang Chung to amend the song for fear of societal collapse.

Keith’s ponderings, when applied to WWJD, do require a response. If we’re going to aspire to do what Jesus would do and encourage everyone we know to do that same, we’d better ask, “What does it mean to do what Jesus would do? How do you do it? Is it a good idea for everybody to do what Jesus would do?”

For most people I’ve met, doing what Jesus would do requires reading through the Gospel accounts to form an algorithm of sorts and then overlaying it onto our lives. We read that Jesus spent time socially with sinners, so we go to share the gospel in the entertainment districts. He gave up his earthly possessions, so we sell what we have and give to the poor, or at least we think we should. He cared for marginalized people, so we volunteer at a soup kitchen. These are the kinds of things that Christ did which we admire, and aspire to reproduce.

This approach has some fatal flaws. For one, we tend to selectively purvey vignettes from the Gospels to construct our template. Most “radicals”¹ ignore Christ’s tendency to push people away to find a time of repose. In Mark 7:24 we’re told that he went to a pagan city and cloistered himself in a house, posting his disciples outside his door to keep visitors at bay. Many people imagine Jesus as always gentle. That image comes more from pastoral paintings of him than from the actual Gospel accounts. Recently on a Facebook group, I was accused of being un-Christ-like for dismantling Mormon doctrine. I directed my accuser to Matthew 23. Almost every Christian I’ve met would distance themselves from red-faced street preachers shouting at the “whoremongers” to repent, but that style of ministry much more closely resembles Jesus’ own than the one we’re comfortable with. I’m sure everyone would agree that Jesus was generous, but the Gospels present not a single vignette of Jesus giving anything to anyone. There was that one time that he paid the temple tax, but that four-drachma coin had never actually been in his possession.
Jesus got money from the mouth of a fish. Now, go and do what Jesus would do!

 

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Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

 

Christ’s spiritual mastery shakes our attempts at imitating him. Jeff Walling, the well known Church of Christ preacher, once related a story about a time that he came into his kitchen to get a glass of chocolate milk only to walk in on his son holding a glass containing the last chocolate milk in the house. Bro. Walling hinted around that he wanted some of the milk. As the willfully ignorant son put the glass to his lips, the preacher blurted out, “Now Billy, what would Jesus do?”

Billy responded, “Jesus would make more,” and he downed the entire glass.

Peter preached to Cornelius’ household that Jesus, “went around doing good,” but those good works consisted of miraculous deliverance and healing empowered by the Spirit of God. When we contemplate doing good because it’s what Jesus would do, we usually mean serving in some way or giving money to the needy. Very few Christians in America would answer the question, “What would Jesus do?” with “heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons!”² Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Christ’s disciples can and will do these things in his name, but they are not the first things we consider when seeking to emulate his life. If performing these works is what it means to do what Jesus would do, then very few people will be found to have met the standard on the last day.

Besides our inability to rise to the miraculous example of Christ, there’s another more mundane problem with aspiring to do what Jesus would do.

We just can’t know for certain what Jesus would do in every situation by reading about what he did do. We can’t know for certain what anyone would do in every situation. Human personalities defy predictions. Variations in mood, recent history, and immediate environment affect choices and attitudes. In a way, we’re a bundle of reactions. As fully human, Jesus was affected by these factors as well. He had tendencies to be sure, but he was more than that. In a way, our attempts to formulate a behavioral decision-tree based on the accounts of his life dehumanize him to the point of making him inaccessible.

Even if we could come up with a list of things that we could say with absolute certainty Jesus always would do, adhering to that list wouldn’t be possible or practical for most believers. Jesus of Nazareth was the only person to live that specific life. Much of what he would do cannot be generalized to everyone. We might say that Jesus would always welcome and bless children, but Jesus never had children of his own. Applying the “always welcome and bless” value to parenting will no doubt produce a generation of self-indulgent brats.

 

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Image by ariyandhamma from Pixabay

 

It’s a pretty safe bet that Jesus would preach everywhere without regard for personal consequences, but it’s probably not best for a married father of four with a mortgage to stand up on his desk and call on his workgroup to repent and believe the gospel.

Jesus left his home and traveled throughout towns and villages. Does that mean a mother of small children should do the same? If so, should her husband? How about both sets of that couple’s parents and their aunts, uncles, cousins and so on? If so, who’s going to take care of the babies?

Forget about the implications of everybody Wang Chunging (or is it Wanging Chung?) for one night; an entire society of people living the life of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels is simply untenable.

As much as we’d like to think that everyone ought to just quit their jobs and do life together, not even the early church could make that way of life work for very long. If anyone was ever qualified to do what Jesus would do it was his twelve chosen disciples. They’d lived with him for over three years and experienced a rich taste of kingdom living. They had abandoned their homes and occupations for total immersion in Christ’s teachings, example, and community. After three thousand people joined their ranks on the day of Pentecost, those people were incorporated into fulltime kingdom living as Acts 2:42-44 describes:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.

Christians often read that passage with a mix of longing and guilt. We see the experience of those first believers as the golden age of the church. We compare that description to our earthbound existence and long for the church to go back to that expression of the kingdom. There can be no doubt, we think, that those Christians were doing what Jesus did, or at least what the disciples did when they were physically following Jesus.

At this point, it’s probably important to make the distinction between what Jesus did and what he would do. I’ve been saying that we shouldn’t do what Jesus would do, but I don’t mean that we shouldn’t imitate Christ. I’m saying that the attempt to produce a template from the Gospels and live that way isn’t something Jesus – the real, living, dynamic person – would do.

The early disciples continued doing what they did when they were with Jesus, but with the addition of thousands more, that way of living became unsustainable. In the very next verse of Acts 2, Luke relays, “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

This example of radical generosity also places an expiration date on the golden age.
By the beginning of chapter 4, the church has experienced further growth with the number just of the men reaching five thousand. At the end of chapter 4, Luke lets us know that this growth wasn’t just numerical:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

Luke understood that the coming of the kingdom of God would be accompanied by the abolition of need as wealthy citizens learned to share with the materially poor. We’re meant to interpret the selling of land and houses as tangible expressions of grace – and they are. But, as any financial advisor will tell you, paying bills by liquidating property won’t last forever. Without income, the system will eventually go bankrupt. By Acts 8, God mercifully allowed the First Church of Jerusalem to disband and disburse before scarcity turned the members against each other.

 

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Image by Hang Nelson from Pixabay

 

Everyone can’t do what Jesus did because during the years of his earthly ministry he was a financial liability. In Luke 8:1-3 we’re told that Jesus and his retinue soaked up the resources of a cadre of women who traveled with them. No doubt, Jesus’ supporters received back far greater treasures in terms of spiritual blessings, but those don’t feed hungry bellies. At some point, someone’s gonna have to not do what Jesus did so they and others can eat.

Just like Jesus, those who have been gifted and called to spend full time ministering the word of God have a right to support from those to whom they minister, but only a very small percentage of all believers is called to the full-time ministry of the word. Most believers will pursue God’s calling on their lives by maintaining honest secular occupations.

God means to express the beauty of his kingdom through the productive conduct of his subjects. High unemployment in a nation suggests a failure on the part of the government. The citizens of God’s kingdom exhibit his wisdom and righteousness when they go to work.

Christ commanded his followers to love one another as he loved usYes, we’re to imitate Christ but not by mimicking the behaviors we see in the Gospels. We can imitate Jesus because we’ve experienced his love at his cross. When we believe that sacrifice was for us and that God vindicated Christ’s trust, we imbibe his love and his faith. Resurrection faith and cruciform love are the DNA of God’s Son. When we express those traits in an incalculable variety of situations, we imitate Christ.

In my life and yours, imitating Christ will often require that we not do what Jesus did. Love requires that we give our resources to those in need. We must work so we can have those resources in the first place. To encourage obedience to the gospel of God’s loving kingdom, Paul chose to serve bi-vocationally. Here’s what he had to say about it:

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 NIV)

Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Paul imitated Christ by not doing what Jesus did, and he encouraged others to do the same.

 


Footnotes:

  1.  The word “Radical” has appeared recently in titles of books devoted to encouraging Christians to mimic the life of Jesus in the Gospels. Two that come to mind are Shane Claiborne’s, Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, and David Platt’s, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream. 
  2.  Matthew 10:5-8

Love Your Opponent

I read a story today that made me weep tears of joy.

Kenda Creasy Dean in her book Almost Christian, urges the church to reclaim the unmixed gospel as the basis for teen discipleship. Why? Because of an ESPN article on high school football, that’s why!

Grapevine, Texas—one of Money Magazine’s top 100 “best places to live” in 20072—is almost 90% white, has a $90,000 median family income, and award-winning schools like Faith Christian School. Like most towns in Texas, Grapevine takes its high school football seriously. Faith’s football team, for example, has seventy players, eleven coaches, the latest equipment, and hordes of involved parents. In November 2008, the Faith Lions were 7–2 going into the game with the Gainesville State Tornados.

Gainesville State, on the other hand, headed into the game 0–8, having scored only two touchdowns all year. Gainesville’s fourteen players wore seven-year-old pads and dilapidated helmets and were escorted by twelve security guards who took off the players’ handcuffs before the game. Gainesville State, a maximum security prison north of Dallas, gets its students by court order. Many Tornados have convictions for drugs, assaults, and robberies. Many of their families have disowned them. They play every game on the road.

Before the game, Faith’s head coach Kris Hogan had an idea. What if, just for one night, half of the Faith fans cheered for the kids on the opposing team? “Here is the message I want you to send,” Hogan wrote in an email to Faith’s faithful. “You are just as valuable as any other person on Planet Earth.” The Faith fans agreed.

When the Gainesville Tornados took the field, they crashed through a banner made by Faith fans that read “Go Tornados!” The Gainesville players were surprised to find themselves running through a forty-foot spirit line made up of cheering fans. From their benches at the side of the field, the Gainesville team heard two hundred fans on the bleachers behind them, cheering for them by name, led by real cheerleaders (Hogan had recruited the JV squad to cheer for the opposing team). “I thought maybe they were confused,” said Alex, a Gainesville lineman. Another lineman, Gerald, said: “We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games. . . . But these people, they were yellin’ for us! By our names!” Gainesville’s quarterback and middle linebacker Isaiah shook his head in disbelief. “I never thought I’d hear people cheering for us to hit their kids. . . . But they wanted us to!”

At the end of the game (Faith won, 33–14), the losing team practically danced off the field with their fingers pointing #1 in the air. They gave Gainesville’s head coach Mark Williams what ESPN sportswriter Rick Reilly described as the first Gatorade bath in history for a 0–9 coach. When the teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray, Isaiah surprised everybody by asking to lead. (“We had no idea what the kid was going to say,” remembers Coach Hogan.) This was Isaiah’s prayer: “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”

As guards escorted the Tornados back to their bus, each player received a bag filled with burgers, fries, candy, a Bible, and an encouraging letter from a Faith player. Before he stepped onto the bus, Williams turned and grabbed Hogan hard by the shoulders: “You’ll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You’ll never, ever know.” The Gainesville players crowded onto one side of the bus, peering out the windows at an unbelievable sight—people they had never met before smiling at them, waving goodbye, as the bus drove into the night.

Dean, Kenda Creasy. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (pp. 85-87). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Our younger son, Jadon, is on a football team with a public junior high in “the hood.” I read the story to him and his sister this morning. As I read about the Gainesville team, he said, “That sounds familiar.”

I choked up as I read about the families from Faith Christian giving out the goody bags. Then, I looked up at Jadon and Lydia to say, “That’s the gospel. That’s the new thing that Jesus brought to the earth.”

On the way to school, Jadon told me that his “sketchy” friend Brandon got kicked off the team for lashing out at the opposing team after last week’s game. Jadon had previously told me some about Brandon’s home life. His dad’s out of the picture and his mother at least appears to be a meth addict. One time, when Brandon’s mom pulled to the curb to pick him up after practice, Jadon and some of his friends yelled after him, “We love you, Brandon!”

Brandon’s mom pointed at him through the car window and yelled, “Ha! I knew you were a f@ggot!”

It’s little wonder why Brandon flew off the handle last week.

I told Jadon that we should pray for Brandon and look for ways to remind him that he matters to God. By his quick agreement, I could tell that Jadon’s mind had already arrived there.

As believers in Christ, we’re called to live out the gospel. That simple story about how the Son of God came to live among us, die for our sins, rise again, and ascend to heaven to reign until his coming in judgment is pregnant with practical significance for every facet of human existence.

As a former legalist, I’ve learned that following a list of external rules, even an inspired one, leads to the fractured and frustrated disposition which the Bible calls, “death.” God didn’t nail the Torah requirements to the cross just to give us new written code in Matthew through Revelation. If he did, that would suggest that he had given Israel something faulty previously. The problem wasn’t with the specific commands, but with the very idea that commands could restore fallen rebels to a loving relationship with God and other people.

In Galatians 3:23-24, Paul speaks of the Mosaic law as a schoolmaster which superintended God’s people until the coming of “this faith.” Whatever “this faith” is, it made law obsolete. “This faith” can’t refer simply to belief in invisible realities since people living under the law possessed faith of that generic sort. “This faith” must be of such a quality that it can serve to direct human behavior in a way that the law prescribed but couldn’t accomplish in our rebellious hearts. So, what is “this faith”? Paul tells us several verses earlier:

For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by (the faith of -NAW) the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20)

I’ve changed the phrase in the parenthetical to more accurately reflect the original Greek from the NIV’s translation “faith in.” Paul’s original intent seems to be to convey that Christ’s faith by which he offered himself on the cross had been transferred to Paul through that very act. Because Christ died for Paul, Paul was now beholden live by the faith of Christ.

On the cross, Jesus fully revealed both the heart of God and the obligation of every human. Now, we look to the gospel to know in any situation how we should live. By faith we perceive the instructions of the gospel. By faith we obey them. This, and only this, is the Christian life.

The gospel proclaims the intrinsic worth of even the most vile offender. On that evening in Grapevine, TX, Coach Kris and the families of Faith Christian School obeyed the gospel. As my kids go to school and encounter punks, freaks, geeks, jocks, and goths, the gospel will tell them what to do. I pray they will listen and obey.

As we go into this week, we’ll run into people that we’d rather ignore. Will we live by some minimum standard or will we live by the faith of Christ?