Daily Light – Feb 12, 2021

Your Spouse Should Complete You 

What It Means to Become One 

Article by Steven Wedgeworth, Guest Contributor 

When Christians think about the perfect marriage, we should not take our primary cues from romantic comedies. But we can take at least one cue: we should be able to look our spouse in the face and say, “You complete me.” 

If you don’t believe me, let’s hear from John Calvin. Writing about the first marriage, he said, 

Something was taken from Adam, in order that he might embrace, with greater benevolence, a part of himself. . . . He now saw himself, who had before been only half complete, rendered whole in his wife. (Commentary on Genesis 2:21

This completeness of husband and wife is why the apostle Paul can say that to love your spouse is to love yourself (Ephesians 5:28). The two really are one, and this means so much more than sentiment. It means they are one flesh. 

Living Together as One 

Paul writes, 

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28–32

What does it mean to live as one? Here are some implications of the husband and wife being one flesh. 

ONE BODY 

To understand this oneness, we have to see that it is the oneness of Genesis 2:21–24. It is the oneness of one body. God created Adam first, but Adam is incomplete: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Even among the animals, “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:1820). So God created the suitable helper for Adam, and did so from Adam’s own body (1 Corinthians 11:8). 

When Adam sees Eve, he says, “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). And so, the Scriptures say, it is for this reason that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:23–24Ephesians 5:31). Because they are one flesh, they shall become one flesh. 

ONE MISSION 

Marital oneness creates oneness of vocation. Adam was given an original calling, to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, and this is something that he was unable to do alone (Genesis 1:282:18). So woman was made for man (1 Corinthians 11:9). Unlike the animals, woman alone was a suitable helper for this job (Genesis 2:20). 

ONE UNION 

Biblical oneness requires leaving other unions, notably one’s parents. Psalm 45 explains this by way of joining a new household: “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty” (Psalm 45:10–11). This tells us that the marital union is distinct from extended kinship communities. It begins a new head-body relationship. Thus, the conjugal family is the most basic civic institution. It is one flesh. 

ONE PROMISE 

A third meaning of biblical oneness is permanence. Jesus himself makes this connection: “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). Even for Christians and churches that acknowledge certain stipulated grounds for divorce, divorce is always tragic because it rips apart a body. Like death, divorce separates two things that belong together. And so, Christians enter into marriage vowing a commitment for a lifetime, and they do everything they can to make marriage last until the end. 

ONE LOVE 

A final implication of marriage being a one-flesh union is the logic of the love. As Paul says in Ephesians 5:28, to love a spouse is to love yourself. When a husband loves his wife, he is loving his body, and when a wife loves her husband, she is loving her head. This is why hating one’s spouse is so tragic. It’s actually a form of self-hatred. Abusing your wife is abusing yourself. Despising your husband is despising yourself. 

Challenges to Living as One 

I think many, if not most, Christians would say that the biblical picture of marriage is actually attractive. It is encouraging and even inspirational. But then, why is it so hard? 

Sin is always the first answer. The only candidates for marriage are sinners, and they will have the added disadvantage of living around, working for, and befriending other sinners. On top of this, sinful forces and evil powers will afflict and attack them during their life. Life on earth is war (Job 7:1), and our marriages exist only on the earth. 

But there are certain specific and predictable challenges to living as one. All good marriage counselors know to talk about money and extended family. They warn about the dangers of working too much or spending too much time on friends and hobbies. These are predictable dangers, and they’re very real. But each of these dangers actually comes back to the question of identity: what we think marriage is and who we think we are. 

PARENTAL INFLUENCE 

Our parents’ influence certainly continues after we marry, but the biblical teaching of the oneness of marriage is clear that the parents’ authority ends when the man and woman marry. The husband and wife should continue to honor and respect their own parents and their in-laws, but they must also separate from them in appropriate ways. The extended family should not put itself between the husband and wife, nor try to play them off against one another. This sort of advice is easier to give than to apply, but it all starts with understanding the oneness of marriage. The husband and wife are their own household. 

MONEY 

Money too is affected by our mindset. It divides a marriage when one partner spends without regard for the other, and this happens because they are still thinking of “mine” and “yours.” But in reality, the money, and the things, are now “theirs” — all of it. 

The fourth-century church father John Chrysostom put it this way: 

Above all banish this notion from her soul, of mine and yours. If she says the word “mine,” say unto her, “What things do you call yours? For in truth I know not; I for my part have nothing of my own. How then do you speak of ‘mine,’ when all things are yours?” (Homily 20 on Ephesians

WORK 

Something similar goes for work commitments. In the modern world, especially with the breakdown of clear boundaries between work time and off time, people are working longer than ever before. Thanks to their smartphones, they’re still working even while they are eating, while they are walking at the park, and while they are supposed to be sleeping. But this style of working will hollow out a marriage. 

The biblical oneness of marriage means that marriage comes first. Christians should understand their “job” as an extension and application of the household’s cultural mandate, one way in which they are jointly multiplying, filling the earth, and subduing it. Practically, this means that the work of our jobs has to support the more basic work of our marriage and family. If our jobs harm our family, then they are harming our own bodies. 

FRIENDS 

So too, finally, with friends. While men and women are naturally going to have their own kinds of friends, and usually friends that are quite different from one another, the boundaries need to be clear. We are never “on our own” with our friends but always part of our body. Thus, what we do with our friends, and how long we do it, should be good for our spouse as well, good for both head and body. 

The Marriage We All Want 

Why is this a particularly Christian understanding of marriage? 

This understanding of marriage is Christian because it comes from God’s word, but even more than this, it is Christian because it bears witness to Christ. It lives out the self-sacrificial love that Christ showed the church (Ephesians 5:25–27). To marry as a Christian is to enter into a lifetime of dying to self. Spouses cannot put their own desires first. They must serve the other and learn to find their joy in the joy of their beloved. Indeed, they must understand that they will succeed and flourish only insofar as their spouse is succeeding and flourishing. They will receive glory from the glory of their other half. 

A Christian marriage also testifies to the communion believers have with Christ. All the blessings of Christ are now ours through our union with him (1 Corinthians 3:21–23Ephesians 1:3). We are so closely identified with Christ that we can say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). When the husband loves his wife as Christ loved the church, and when the wife submits to the husband as to the Lord, then they are a living icon of the whole Christ. 

Ultimately, this sort of marriage points to that great marriage at the end of history, when the holy city comes down out of heaven, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). It points to the great marriage where all of us, having been washed and made without spot or wrinkle, are presented to our eternal husband in splendor. 

This is the marriage, standing beyond the best earthly marriages, that we all want. 

Steven Wedgeworth (@wedgetweets) is associate pastor of Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is a board member for The Davenant Institute. 

Daily Light – Feb 11, 2021

Seek a Broken Heart for Sin 

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org 

The triumphant, victorious Christian life is marked by a curious feature: it rarely feels triumphant or victorious. 

In the kingdom of God, strength comes through weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9–10), greatness through service (Mark 10:43), and wholeness through brokenness (Psalm 147:3). As the classic prayer puts it, 

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit. 

Many of us would gladly take the latter part of each of the above lines if we could forgo the former. But in the wisdom of God, no saint is high, healed, and rejoicing who is not also low, broken, and contrite. Samuel Rutherford put it bluntly: “Seek a broken heart for sin, for without that there is no meeting with Christ” (Letters of Samuel Rutherford, 328). 

We may achieve much in this world without a broken heart; we may even seem to achieve much in the Christian life without a broken heart. But we cannot commune deeply and sweetly with Christ, for he enters only through the cracks of a broken heart. 

Benefits of a Broken Heart 

To be sure, dangers attend this pursuit. Some Christians focus with an almost morbid obsession on the wickedness of sin, the evil of our hearts, and the duty of mourning over our remaining corruption. They spend their days wandering the labyrinths of their indwelling sin, scarcely ever lifting their eyes to the Savior who loved them and gave himself for them (Galatians 2:20). 

Even worse, seeking a broken heart can easily become a twisted attempt at self-justification. We can imagine, perhaps subconsciously, that we are more accepted by God the worse we feel about ourselves — forgetting, as the hymn goes, 

Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
These for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and thou alone. 

Brokenness cannot justify us; tears cannot cleanse us. Only blood can (Ephesians 1:7). 

And yet, the point still holds: a heart broken over sin opens the door for deeper communion with Christ. For only a broken heart teaches us to hate his rivals, welcome his grace, and hear his song of love and favor. 

Hate his rivals. 

Communion with Christ, much like communion with a spouse, requires a deeper sentiment than simply, “I choose you over all others.” It requires the sentiment, “I desire you over all others.” A heart unbroken over sin may choose Christ, at least in an outward sort of way, while still cherishing thoughts of another. But a broken heart has come to feel sin as its greatest burden and shame, and therefore resists Christ’s rivals with a force far greater than mere self-control: the force of holy revulsion. 

In a sermon on Psalm 51, John Piper notes that, in this psalm of repentance over adultery, David never once asks God for more sexual self-control. “Why isn’t he praying for men to hold him accountable? Why isn’t he praying for protected eyes and sex-free thoughts?” Piper asks. The answer: “He knows that sexual sin is a symptom, not the disease.” Adultery is a symptom of a deeper disease: a heart unbroken over the evil of sin, unravished by the glory of Christ. 

So instead of merely pleading for self-control — for the power to choose God’s ways — David prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). And a clean heart is, at bottom, a broken heart: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). If David was going to enjoy restored communion with God, he needed more than willpower. He needed a broken heart. 

Self-control has its place in the Christian life, of course. But on its own, separated from a deep, abiding hatred of all that would draw us away from Christ, it merely weakens sin in the branches rather than withering it at the root. 

Welcome his grace. 

A broken heart, then, is never an end in itself. Christ, our good physician, breaks a heart as a surgeon must sometimes break a bone: only so he can heal it better in the end. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). And the sweetest medicine he gives is called grace. 

Though bitter in itself, a broken heart can open our hands to welcome grace in deeper ways than ever before. Only after Isaiah was undone, remember, did he hear the comforting words: “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). Only as Peter cowered, condemned, did Jesus say to him, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 5:10). And only after Paul cried, “Wretched man that I am!” did he say with equal force, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25). 

If anxious thoughts of God’s love swirl within us, could it be that we are basing his love too much in us? And could it be that what we need most is a fresh breaking of the heart, to the point of despairing in ourselves again? Perhaps then we could hear the words of Horatius Bonar

Faith is rest, not toil. It is the giving up of all the former weary efforts to do or feel something good, in order to induce God to love and pardon; and the calm reception of the truth so long rejected, that God is not waiting for any such inducements, but loves and pardons of his own goodwill, and is showing that goodwill to any sinner who will come to him on such a footing, casting away his own performances or goodnesses, and relying implicitly on the free love of him who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son. 

Some vainly attempt to climb to heaven by a ladder of good deeds and feelings. But the brokenhearted know that we reach heaven only on bended knees. “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up: . . . ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit’” (Isaiah 57:15). The grace of the Holy One comes only to the lowly ones. 

Hear his song. 

Such grace in itself is a marvel. Yet even more wonderful is the manner in which God gives it. Imagine, if you dare, the God of grace rushing toward you in your brokenness, his mouth open not with censure, but with song. 

To the exiles in Jerusalem, God promised, “I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly” (Zephaniah 3:11–12). In other words, he promised to mercifully break his people’s hearts. And then, against all expectation, he says, 

The Lord your God is in your midst,
     a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
     he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17

As with so many of God’s ways, “behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.” Perhaps we fear that, after breaking our hearts, God will proceed to placard our sin for all eternity — that he will rub it in our faces, as it were, and make heaven a world of groveling penitence before the Almighty Frown. 

Instead, he fills the air with song. For ages and ages, the melody of our forgiving God will display to his once-broken, now-healed people more and more of “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). And still the song will go on. 

Seek a Broken Heart 

Of course, we cannot just up and give ourselves a broken heart. Just as the men of Jerusalem “were cut to the heart” only when touched by a divine dagger (Acts 2:37), so too with us: if our hearts are to be broken at all by sin, God must break them. 

Yet we can do something. We can follow Rutherford’s counsel to “seek a broken heart.” We can give up the exhausting effort of concealing our sin and pretending ourselves better than we are. We can pray that God would kindly, lovingly break us. And we can embrace the counterintuitive truth that the Christian life advances by opposites: we rise higher by stooping; we progress by repentance. 

In this world, our fullness will come through emptiness, our strength through weakness, our joy through mourning, our exaltation through humility, and our wholeness through a broken and contrite heart. 

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live with their son in Minneapolis. 

Daily Light – Feb 10, 2021

So You Say You Want Social Justice? 

Review: ‘Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth’ by Thaddeus Williams 

Article by Justin Dillehay, MDiv 

“With all the division in America today, it’s comforting to know that at least we can all agree on social justice,” said nobody ever.  

Given this lightning-rod nature of a topic, one wonders if Thaddeus Williams—associate professor of theology at Biola University—is simply a glutton for punishment (or needs to check his privilege, depending on your belief). 

Williams’s new book, Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice [listen to his Gospelbound interview with Collin Hansen], could also turn out to be a lightning rod, though I pray it will instead spark conversations. He wrote it because he’s convinced that “social justice is one of the most epic and age-defining controversies facing the 21st-century  

Drawing from a diverse range of theologians, sociologists, artists, and activists, Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth, by Thaddeus Williams, makes the case that we must be discerning if we are to “truly execute justice” as Scripture commands. Not everything called “social justice” today is compatible with a biblical vision of a better world. The Bible offers hopeful and distinctive answers to deep questions of worship, community, salvation, and knowledge that ought to mark a uniquely Christian pursuit of justice. 

Celebrate Social Justice A 

Williams believes that social justice is both biblically required and socially necessary. But he also believes it’s threatened by an unhealthy imitation that’s biblically false and socially destructive. The former he calls “Social Justice A” (as in “awesome”) and the latter “Social Justice B” (as in “bad”).   

Social Justice A follows the traditional understanding of justice as giving others their due. In this sense the phrase is a bit redundant, since all justice is social by its nature (1). But perhaps Williams’s greatest contribution is to remind us that justice is vertical as well as horizontal (15–20). Sin is an injustice against God; glory is “due to his name” and we’ve all failed to give it (Ps. 29:2; 96:8Rom. 3:23). So it would be socially just for God to send us all to hell, regardless of how otherwise oppressed we might have been on earth.   

Social Justice A sees human identity as fundamentally either fallen in Adam or redeemed in Christ. Because we’re saved by grace alone, we have no room for self-righteous boasting over any other person, regardless of race, class, or gender. Because our fellow men are made in God’s image, it’s a heinous sin to wrong or oppress any of them. This is why practitioners of Social Justice A have historically rescued babies from trash heaps, hidden Jews from Nazis, and abolished slavery and widow-burning—because “God does not suggest, he commands that we do justice” (2; Mic. 6:8Isa. 58:6).  

Question Social Justice B  

Social Justice B, however, is what many people think of first. It largely maps to the left in both academia and political activism. It’s associated with names like Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, and the official Black Lives Matter movement. And it’s a philosophy Williams thinks is dangerous both for the church and society.  

It’s not that Social Justice B contains no truth, but that it represents a different worldview. God is often marginal or absent. Rather than understanding human beings fundamentally as either sinners in Adam or saints in Christ, it tends to classify people as either oppressed or oppressors (44), often allowing the oppressed to demonize their opponents and avoid self-examination (69). 

Of course Scripture recognizes that oppression exists, and strongly condemns it. The problem with Social Justice B is that it tends to both unduly expand and oversimplify the definition of oppression. Specifically, it oversimplifies oppression by grouping people into the oppressor/oppressed category based on identity groups like race. Thus not only was Stephanie Wilford oppressed (an elderly, disabled black woman who lamented on camera that the Minneapolis rioters had destroyed her livelihood and left her with no place to go), but, according to Social Justice B, so were the rioters whose lawless actions had terrorized her. 

Wilford’s oppressors are lumped into the oppressed category with her, either on the basis of their identity group (race) or the cause for which they were rioting (social justice), leading to a false moral equivalence and an unwillingness to condemn violence. A wiser perspective would recognize it’s possible for the same person to be both oppressed and an oppressor (and truth be told, that describes almost everyone at one point or another), rather than downplaying the moral agency of the oppressed.  

According to Williams, Social Justice B also unduly expands the definition of oppression by assuming that basically any statistical disparity in race or sex is proof of racism or sexism. Williams challenges this assumption in his chapter, “The Disparity Question: Does Our Vision of Social Justice Prefer Damning Stories to Undamning Facts?” Of all the chapters, this one is most likely to leave Williams accused of pushing “right-wing politics” (9). But to me it’s probably the most important chapter aside from “The God Question.” I too have noticed that even in the church “Our conversations about ‘racial reconciliation’ often start with unquestioned Social Justice B premises. We assume that disparity is evidence of discrimination. We hear that society is white supremacist and misogynist to its core, and it’s too risky to raise questions” (100). 

It feels too risky especially when you’re told that your role is only to listen. I know there are many roadblocks in the evangelical race conversation, but in my judgment this is one of them. And until this assumption is examined and people are free to raise honest questions without fear of being accused of racism, many white people will simply self-censor and the conversation will not proceed.  

Don’t Pigeonhole This Book 

Now if you suspect me of being a middle-class, white, conservative male who subscribes to National Review and almost always votes Republican, then you’re correct. There was confirmation bias going on as I read. So maybe I’m the last person who needs to be reviewing this book. 

Having said that, I think it would be unjust to write this book off as a screed for white Republicans. The man who wrote the foreword, John M. Perkins, besides being a civil-rights icon, supported Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden. George Yancey, a dogged independent whose mutual accountability approach to race discussions has been helpful to me, also endorsed the book. Many of the scholars Williams relies on—whether Coleman Hughes or John McWhorter—are neither conservatives nor Christians. 

I can promise you, there are plenty of people on the right who won’t like this book—if only because Williams refers to social justice without irony. If you want to categorize this book, I’d suggest laying it alongside books like The Coddling of the American Mind or When Helping Hurts. Rather than appealing to political partisanship, it appeals to reason and evidence, both from the Bible and the social sciences. You may conclude that it’s a flawed appeal, but like the wisdom that comes down from above, it is “gentle and open to reason” (James 3:17) and focuses on persuading the mind rather than “owning the libs.” That alone sets it apart from most of our online echo chambers.    

Do Justice Well 

The comparison with When Helping Hurts is a good place to conclude. Because like Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, Thaddeus Williams loves the oppressed and wants to help them. He appreciates the good intentions of many Christians trying to fulfill the biblical mandate to do justice. But that is precisely why, like Corbett and Fikkert, he feels compelled to oppose so much of what flies under the banner of social justice. He’s convinced that not only will it not help the oppressed, but it will consume limited time and resources that could’ve been spent really alleviating oppression.    

So let’s first do no harm; the only thing worse than hurting the oppressed is doing so in the name of Jesus. Let’s work smart at doing justice as well as working hard. Let us be quick to hear, slow to speak, and cultivate a love that hopes all things. And in all our justice, let us “start with God.” Because as Dr. Perkins observes, “If we don’t start with him first, whatever we’re seeking, it ain’t justice” (xv). 

Justin Dillehay (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hartsville, Tennessee, where he resides with his wife, Tilly, and his children, Norah, Agnes, and Henry. He is a contributing editor of The Gospel Coalition. 

Daily Light – Feb 9, 2021

An Open Letter to the Evangelical Church on Christology 

Written by Stephen J. Wellum, PhD 

Scripture speaks to us on many issues, but none so important, glorious, and central than our Lord Jesus Christ—and that is an understatement! Given who Jesus is and what he has done, he is the very heart and substance of the gospel, indeed all of Scripture, and thus the most important person in all of human history. Just think about three examples that demonstrate this point. 

First, it’s almost a truism to say that our triune God is central to everything as the glorious all-sufficient One who alone is Creator and Lord (Rom. 11:33–36). Yet, how we come to know God as triune is largely due to the incarnation of the divine Son and his work. As John reminds us, Jesus is “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14), yet from eternity he was the divine Son who was “with God” and “was God,” thus revealing the triune relation of persons within God (John 1:1). Apart from Christ’s incarnation, we would not know fully how he, as the divine Son, eternally shared the one undivided divine nature with the Father and Holy Spirit in perfect love and communion. And significantly for us, we would not have a Redeemer to save us from our sins (Matt. 1:21). 

Second, to understand Scripture aright, we must also see that it’s our Lord Jesus Christ who is central to it. Despite numerous authors and books, Scripture has one main message: what our triune God has planned in eternity and accomplished in time to bring all of his purposes and plans to fulfillment in Christ Jesus. Scripture repeatedly reminds us of this truth. In Christ alone, God’s plan finds its fulfillment (Heb. 1:1–4). In Christ, God has planned to bring “all things in heaven and on earth” under his headship (Eph. 1:9–10), since it’s not only through the Son that the Father has created (with the Spirit), but the very purpose of creation is “for him” (Col. 1:16). No wonder our Lord taught us to read all of Scripture in terms of himself (Luke 24:26–27John 5:39–40) since he is the main character in the story and the central figure of all of human history (Matt. 5:17–20; 11:11–13). 

Third, we cannot understand the gospel apart from Christ (1 Cor. 15:1–3). Central to the gospel is what our triune God has done to redeem his people and to establish a new creation. This is why “eternal life” is found only in Christ (John 17:3). By assuming a human nature, the divine Son became the first man of the new creation, perfectly qualified to be our new covenant head. In his work, Jesus reversed the work of Adam (Rom. 5:12–21Heb. 2:5–18) and secured our eternal salvation (Heb. 5:8-10) by his life, death, and resurrection. In fact, it’s only because Christ is truly God and truly human that he was able to redeem us. As the divine Son, he alone is able to satisfy God’s own judgment against our sin, and as the incarnate Son, he alone is able to identify with us as our representative and substitute (Heb. 5:1). For this reason, Christ is central to the gospel, and apart from him there is no salvation (John 14:6Acts 4:11). 

Why is this important to state? Because it not only reminds us that Jesus is in a category all by himself, but also that knowing Christ is no minor issue. In life we can be confused about many issues and not know many things, but to be confused about who Jesus is and what he has done and to not know him as Lord and Savior is a life and death issue. 

For this reason, it’s alarming to discover that within the evangelical church there is rampant confusion regarding the person and work of Christ. If our world is confused, we are not surprised. But when confusion about Christ is within the church, this is a serious matter! 

Since 2014, “The State of Theology Poll”1 has been conducted, which has revealed beliefs of self-identified “evangelicals.” In 2020, the latest version of the poll was released and the results were disturbing. We discovered that of 573 self-identified “evangelicals,” 96% believed in the Trinity, but 65% agreed that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God” (a heretical view held by the Arians and Jehovah’s Witnesses). We also discovered that 30% believed that “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God,” and 42% that “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” 

When one thinks through these “evangelical” responses, it sadly reveals that what is most central to the Christian faith is either denied, misunderstood, or that the current state of evangelicalism is one of huge biblical and theological illiteracy. But as noted above, this kind of confusion is not minor as with so many other areas in life. Instead, this confusion has eternal life and death consequences, given who Jesus is. 

This should be a wake-up call for the evangelical church. But instead of bemoaning the situation, it should move us to action by calling us back again to the faithful exposition of God’s Word, the teaching of sound doctrine, and renewing our commitment to proclaim Christ. For too long the evangelical church has gone soft on sound exposition of Scripture and the faithful teaching of systematic theology and replaced it with the felt needs of people and joining various social causes. But given the life and death importance of who Christ is, and given where the evangelical church is, our greatest need is to think rightly about Christ—biblically and theologically. The life and health of the church depends on a correct preaching and teaching of Christ—a teaching that leads us, by God’s grace, to faith and confidence in our Lord Jesus, and an entire life lived in adoration, praise, and obedience to him. 

But a question needs to be asked: Why, generally speaking, have so many evangelicals drifted from the “first things” of the gospel centered in Christ? Probably many answers could be given to this question, but years ago Francis Schaeffer offered a potential answer. 

In thinking about generations of Christians and churches, Schaeffer contrasted the difference between a living orthodoxy, a dead orthodoxy, and liberalism. He suggested that a “living orthodoxy” was reflected by people who were born of the Spirit, who gladly embraced the doctrinal truths of the gospel, and who found their central identity in Christ and his people. From this center in Christ, a lifestyle resulted that aimed to please God and to impact the culture for Christ. A “dead orthodoxy,” on the other hand, was characterized by people who affirmed the truths of the gospel, but their central identity was in the moral/social entailments of the gospel. 

Their first concern was not the glory of Christ but more about transforming the culture for Christ. What the apostle John criticized the Ephesian church for was true of them: they were sound in doctrine, but they had lost their first love (Rev. 2:1–7). And then from a dead orthodoxy, “liberalism” soon followed. Liberalism denied the truths of Christian theology, and all that remained of historic Christianity were its moral/social entailments—a “social gospel”—that attempted to transform society by political revolution but not by the truth of the gospel. 

What must captivate evangelicals again is the objective truth of the gospel—indeed Christ himself! 

If we apply Schaeffer’s analysis to our current state of evangelicalism, I’m concerned that “dead orthodoxy” describes many parts of it. Most evangelicals “affirm” historic Christianity, but as the polls reveal, this “affirmation” is quite confused. What too many evangelical churches are consumed with is not the “first things” of the gospel centered in Christ, but more the cultural implications of the gospel. Sadly, if social media is any indicator, we are more passionate about debates over social justice than discussions over Christology, penal substitution, and the implications of Christ’s exclusive and all-sufficient work for missions, etc. No doubt, these “social” debates are important, but they must never replace our “first love.” 

Indeed, what must captivate evangelicals again is the objective truth of the gospel—indeed Christ himself! The only remedy to our current situation is to pray that our triune God will revive his church by the powerful proclamation of Christ (Col. 1:28). The only remedy to our lethargy, confusion, and drift is to return to Scripture and to teach God’s people to know and glory in Christ. For it’s only when we do so, by God’s grace, that we will be revived and strengthened by the Spirit to rightly confess, proclaim, and glory in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

After all, given who Jesus is and what he has done for us as our exclusive and all-sufficient Redeemer, our only reasonable response to him is correct doctrinal belief, complete trust, and total devotion. But if this is going to happen, the Spirit will again have to convict us of our sin and remind us that apart from Christ we stand guilty and condemned. Christianity is rightly called a “sinner’s religion,” which means that it’s not until, by God’s grace, we first know something of our own sin and guilt before God that we glory in the unspeakable gift of our Lord Jesus Christ. For such a people who know of their deep need of a Savior, Jesus is more than a doctrine to state; he is the only Lord to be embraced, loved, adored, and obeyed. 

Stephen J. Wellum (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and editor of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Stephen and his wife, Karen, have five adult children. 

Daily Light – Feb 8, 2021

In response to the Daily Light post from last Saturday …. my pastor and friend since 1974,  David Niednagel, shared this comment….

“Isn’t it sad/tragic when some people are bored, or worse yet see no reason to live? To be a human being involves pain in a fallen world, but unlike anything else in the universe, from as small as an electron to as large as a Great Blue Whale, or the Milky Way galaxy, we alone have the capacity to have a relationship with the Creator of the universe.

The concept of being made in the image of God is the greatest and also the most forgotten idea ever on earth. “

Friends, a prayer to start this week:   Father God, we proclaim that YOU are Creator God of the universe.  We proclaim that we are your children based on our faith and position ‘in’ God the Son..Jesus.    So wonderful to truly know that we are in your hands and you will not let us go.  Amazing love, amazing power, amazing grace.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.  Amen

Daily Light – Feb 5, 2021

The Infinite God is Creator and Lord of the ‘finite’ 

Friends: 

This is the time period of the year where I historically dedicate time to reading.  I typically order my reading material (books) in December and I set a goal to read a lot through the first couple months of each new year.  I also seek to remain engaged in reading from scripture.  My goal is simply to grow, to be inspired, to see deeper and clearer ‘so that’ I can share God’s light and love with others.  My focus in reading is to more clearly see the glory and greatness of our God who is alive and who has spoken to us.  

Acts, Chapter 17, verses 22-31 

Paul Addresses the Areopagus 

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for 

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;  

as even some of your own poets have said, 

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’  

29  Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 

He is alive, He has spoken, He still speaks. We communicate because He communicates.  We love because He is love.  We have personality and person-hood because He is personal.  We are finite creatures.  He is the infinite Creator.  Although we are not an animal or a machine, as to our finite-ness as a created being, we are closer in the realm of finite-ness to a machine or animal than we are to His infinite-ness.  But yet, He made us/man in His image.  We can ‘know’ Him.  We cannot know Him exhaustively. But we can know Him truly.  And such is the unique and special human-ness of man.  The ‘image’ of God stamped into our being, our spirit mind, is the ‘human’ distinction.  We have a spirit capacity which is our distinct human-ness.  We are His special creatures created in His image so that we can know Him truly.   

Daily Light – Feb 4, 2021

Escaping the Fog of Triviality 

Interview with John Piper 

The doctrine of God’s providence is the theme of Pastor John’s new book by that title, Providence.  The glorious truth that God governs over everything in this universe has always been true. But for us to see and savor God’s providence, we must learn this glorious truth ourselves from what God has revealed to us in his word. And when we see it and embrace it as true and glorious, this doctrine makes a very definite impact in our lives. There are a total of ten real-life implications he wants to address.  God’s design for all things in providence brings meaning to all of life. In God’s design of all things, no part of life is made meaningless. Here now with one of the ten implications is Pastor John. 

The fourth effect, real-life effect, of seeing and savoring, grasping and cherishing the reality of God’s all-pervading, all-embracing providence is that it goes a long way to protecting us from the trivializing effects of contemporary culture and from the widespread habit of trifling with great things, even divine things. 

Shrunk in Heart 

I don’t know how many people who are listening right now will resonate like I do with this precious effect of feeling the weight and the wonder of the providence of God. One of the reasons this is so significant for me is that I have felt over the years that the greatest threat to my soul is not committing adultery against my wife, or embezzling money from some ministry, or even a sudden throwing away of my faith and becoming an advocate for atheism, or being overtaken by some terrible fit of rage and killing somebody. 

None of those things has seemed to me to be nearly as threatening to my soul as the creeping effect of pettiness, the loss of all capacity to feel greatness, and beauty, and magnificence, and depth, and wonder, and awe, and reverence, and weightiness. My fear has not been that I will make shipwreck of my life through some dramatic, egregious sin, but through the steady drip from the faucet of silliness. 

Lest I be misunderstood, this is not some appeal for high-level, intellectual, educated perceptions of philosophical complexity, blah, blah, blah. No, I’m talking about capacities that the simplest, most uneducated person in the world can feel if he is in touch with the greatest realities in the universe, which come not primarily through education, but through the awakening of heart capacities to soar with beauties, and the mysteries of creation and redemption, and with the revelation of God’s nature and God’s ways in Scripture. 

This capacity of heart is not given primarily through education; it’s given through the miracle of the Holy Spirit opening the eyes of the heart to be stunned by what is stunning, and to be shocked by what is shocking, and to stand in awe of what is awesome, and to be amazed at what is amazing, and to feel the crushing weight of what is crushing, and to see the glory of what is glorious, and to have affections that are — somehow, in some measure — proportionate to the nature of the reality that God reveals to us in the world and in his word. 

I’m not on a quest for some kind of philosophical height. I don’t dread being unphilosophical. I dread, from my heart, being shrunk down in heart to the level where my heart’s capacities for happiness consist only in silly TV jingles and empty-headed slapstick. That’s what I fear. And in my life — this is why I’m commending it — it is seeing and savoring the all-pervasive providence of God that has protected me from the shrinking of my soul. 

Loss of Awe 

One of the curses of our culture, and it has permeated the church and most Christian communication, is banality, triviality, silliness, superficiality, and an eerie addiction to flippancy and levity. This is accompanied by what to me seems a baffling allergy to seriousness, dignity, articulate precision, brokenhearted joy in public speech. Carelessness in speech and casualness in demeanor turn up in places and times where you would least expect them — where you hope for clarity and earnestness and gravity. 

My impression is that at the root of this culture of inarticulate, casual trifling is a loss of a sense of the weight of the greatness and awe-fullness of God. Isn’t that an interesting word, awe-full? Everything is light and funny because God is lightweight. The boats of our communication bounce around with a chipper bearing on the waves of cultural trifling because the heavy ballast of the great, sovereign, holy God of all-pervading providence has been off-loaded at the docks, the docks of man-centered theology and endless screen time. 

This is a tragedy, and not only because it is the fruit of trivializing God, but because it hinders us from seeing him and experiencing him as he really is in the majesty of his all-embracing providence. 

Serious Humor 

My guess is that some who listen to me right now will have no categories for hearing what I’m saying, except as hearing it as a summons to grim, dour somberness and boredom. That’s what Piper’s advocating right now. That’s what it sounds like because we live in a culture that can scarcely imagine something like glad gravity, joyful sorrow, humor — and yes, I am defending humor. Humor has been so identified with silliness, and levity, and slapstick of verbal antics, that the robust, reality-rooted, natural explosiveness of humor is, for many, inconceivable. 

Charles Spurgeon was a very funny man, a great preacher from two centuries ago in the 1800s. But he was not a man of levity. He did not trifle with sacred things or think that worship was a place for casual clowning. He was not allergic to seriousness or dignity. Three years after Spurgeon’s death, Robertson Nicoll expressed my concerns and used Spurgeon as a counterexample. He said this: 

Evangelism of the humorous type may attract multitudes, but it lays the soul in ashes and destroys the very germs of religion. Mr. Spurgeon is often thought, by those who do not know his sermons, to have been a humorous preacher. As a matter of fact, there was no preacher whose tone was more uniformly earnest, reverent, and solemn. (The Forgotten Spurgeon, 38) 

Clear the Fog 

Of course, every mature and healthy person knows that unbroken seriousness of a melodramatic or somber kind will inevitably communicate a sickness of soul. But that’s not our danger here in the first half of the twenty-first century. Our danger is drowning in an ocean of banality and silliness, emptiness — the losing of our capacities for feeling anything like the depth and height of what we ought to feel in the presence of God. That’s our danger. 

And my point here is that seeing and savoring the all-embracing, all-pervasive providence of God has a wonderful effect. It certainly has in my life. It has a wonderful effect in helping us recover and preserve and grow in those capacities. It protects us from the trivializing effects of contemporary culture, and from the widespread habit of trifling with everything, even the great things of God. 

I thank God for that season in my life when he awakened me, and shocked me, and frightened me, and comforted me, and rescued me from the shrinking and the deadening effects of losing the greatness and beauty and joy of God in a fog of trifles. 

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence

Daily Light – Feb 3, 2021

Walk in His Providence 

How God Opens Doors for You 

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org 

When the master in Jesus’s parable gave talents to his servants and went away, two got busy multiplying their master’s money, and one hid his talent in the dirt. Something similar can happen when people like us hear about the providence of God. 

On the one hand, few doctrines have inflamed more holy ambition in the hearts of God’s people. When some hear that God rules over galaxies and governments, over winds and waves, and over every detail in our little lives (Ephesians 1:11), they get busy doing good. Christians gripped by providence have built hospitals, ended slave trades, founded orphanages, launched reformations, and pierced the darkness of unreached peoples. 

On the other hand, few doctrines have been used more often to excuse passivity, sloth, and the sovereignty of the status quo. When some hear that God reigns over all, they reach for the remote, kick up their feet, take sin a little less seriously, bury their talents six feet under. They may do good when the opportunity arises, when the schedule allows, but they will rarely search for good to do. 

How could the all-pervasive providence of God energize some and paralyze others? How could it cause some to blaze boldly into the unknown, and others to putter on the same tired paths, rarely dreaming, never risking? 

Waiting for an Open Door 

When William Carey, the pioneering missionary to India, first proposed the idea of sending Christians to unreached places, an older pastor reportedly protested, “Sit down, young man, sit down and be still. When God wants to convert the heathen, he will do it without consulting either you or me.” 

Such an application of God’s providence is simplistic, unbiblical, irresponsible — and yet also understandable. Though many of us would never make such a statement, we have our own ways of allowing providence to lull us into passivity. Consider the common language of waiting or praying for “an open door.” 

The phrase “open door” comes from the apostle Paul (Colossians 4:3–4), yet many of us use the phrase in ways the apostle didn’t. Paul prayed for open doors, yes, but then he vigorously turned handles (compare 1 Corinthians 16:8–9 with Acts 19:1–10). Many of us, on the other hand, sit in the hallway of life, waiting until a divine hand should swing a door open and push us through it. 

Too often, by saying, “There was no open door,” we mean that there was no obvious, divine orchestration of events that made our path unmistakable. “I didn’t share the gospel because no one seemed interested.” “I didn’t have that hard conversation because we just never ran into each other.” “I didn’t confess that sin because there didn’t seem to be a good time.” Providence, if distorted, can excuse us from all manner of uncomfortable duties. 

When William Carey gazed toward India, he did not see what we might call an open door: fifty million Muslims and Hindus living half a world and two oceans away. Hence the pastor’s response. Yet Carey went anyway, believing that God, in his providence, could make a way where there seemed to be no way. And India is still bearing fruit from his faith. 

For Such a Time as This 

Carey found his inspiration, of course, from dozens of men and women in Scripture who ventured forth into discomfort and danger by the power of God’s providence. 

Where did Jonathan find the courage to attack an army with only his armor-bearer at his side? Providence: “Come, . . . it may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6). How did Esther muster the courage to risk the king’s fury? Providence: “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Why did David step toward Goliath with only a sling and five stones? Providence: “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37). 

Some hear, “God reigns over all,” and think, “Then what difference could my effort make?” Others, like Jonathan, Esther, and David, heard, “God reigns over all,” and thought, “Then God can use even my effort, small though it is.” And so, after thinking, weighing, and praying, they went forth — not always sure that God would prosper their plans, but deeply confident that, if he wanted to, no force in heaven or on earth could stop him. 

In other words, they knew their God ruled in heaven. They saw a need on the earth. And with “Your kingdom come” burning through the chambers of their hearts (Matthew 6:10), they dreamed up something new for the sake of his name. 

Act the Providence of God 

Perhaps, for some of us, the difficulty lies here: we expect to react to the providence of God, but not to act the providence of God. 

Some of us live as though providence were something only to react to. We wait for a clear, providential open door, and then we react to that providence by walking through the doorway. But as we’ve seen, God has planned for some doors to open only as we push them. He has planned for us to act his providence. 

Paul gives us the clearest biblical expression of this dynamic in Philippians 2:12–13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Notice: Our work does not follow God’s work. Rather, our work is the simultaneous effect of God’s work. Or as John Piper writes, “What Paul makes plain here is how fully our own effort is called into action. We do not wait for the miracle; we act the miracle” (Providence, 652). 

Sometimes, to be sure, God is pleased to place some good work right in our lap. Perhaps someone really does ask about the hope that is in us, or the hard conversation we need to have opens easily and naturally. In moments like these, we do indeed react to God’s providence. But God can be just as active in us when our effort is fully involved: when we invite a neighbor over to study the Bible together, or when we arrange a time and place for the difficult talk. 

We need not wait for something unmistakably divine, something unquestionably providential, before we work out our salvation in all kinds of obedience. Instead, we need only see some good work to do, entrust ourselves to God through earnest prayer, work hard in conscious dependence on him, and then, once finished, turn around and say with Paul, “It was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). And thus we act the providence of God. 

Imagine Good 

In his providence, God has prepared good works for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). But many of them will not come as we passively drift beneath God’s providence. They will come to us, instead, as we strain our renewed minds, bend our born-again imaginations, and fashion possibilities in the factory of our new hearts — knowing that every good resolve is a spark of his providence. 

So look around you. Nothing about your life is an accident. You are who you are, what you are, where you are, because of the all-pervasive providence of God. He has given you whatever talents you have, in his wisdom, for such a time as this — so that you would add a stroke to the canvas in front of you, chisel away at the statue you see, speak and act in the drama you’re in, so that this world looks a little more like the work of art God is redeeming it to be. 

There are neighbors to befriend, children to disciple, churches to plant, crisis-pregnancy centers to serve, and a thousand tasks at our jobs to do with excellence and love. And how will we know if God, in his providence, has opened a door for any of these opportunities? We will pray and turn the handle. 

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live with their son in Minneapolis. 

Daily Light – Feb 2, 2021

Faith Is Forged in Crisis 

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org 

The Bible is a blood-earnest book. It’s a book about reality. And reality, as we know all too well, is often brutal and bloody. The Bible doesn’t sugarcoat this fact at all, but describes reality with disturbing forthrightness. Much of Scripture was written during brutal, bloody times by embattled, distressed, weary, even depressed authors. And at the pinnacle of the Bible’s story, at the core of the Bible’s message, is the Son of God dying a bloody death on a brutal Roman cross. 

So, when we open our Bibles, rarely are we going to find a little light reading. 

Even in the book of Psalms, this collection of inspired spiritual poetry that has brought immeasurable comfort to an incalculable number of saints across the centuries, we are frequently faced with distressing themes. In numerous psalms, we read writers’ wrestlings over what it means to trust the God they treasure as they witness some brutal and bloody reality, a reality that challenges their understanding or expectations of God’s promises and purposes. 

These psalms fit into a category we call psalms of lament. In certain lament psalms, like Psalm 10, we’re reading an inspired author’s faith crisis captured in verse. 

Can We Say That to God? 

We see this immediately in the opening verse: 

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
     Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1

That’s a remarkable thing to say to God. Could a Christian Hedonist actually pray this way? 

Why would I ask that question that way? We at Desiring God believe that the Bible teaches an approach to life we call Christian Hedonism. We see in Scripture that a Christian is not someone who assents merely intellectually to core Christian propositional truth claims. A Christian loves God with all his heart (Matthew 22:37), values God as his greatest treasure (Matthew 13:44–46Philippians 3:7–8Hebrews 11:24–26), and seeks God as the source of his greatest and longest-lasting pleasure (Psalm 16:11). The triune God of the Bible is to be a Christian’s “exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4). Summarized in a sentence, Christian Hedonists believe Scripture teaches that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him

We can certainly find lots of Christian Hedonistic prayers in the Psalms, like Psalm 73:25–26

Whom have I in heaven but you?
     And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
     but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 

But what about Psalm 10, where the writer laments his agonizing bewilderment over unjust, greedy, violent acts against innocent, helpless people? He’s not only disturbed by the wicked acts he’s witnessed; he’s disturbed that the wicked are prospering from their wickedness. And God, the righteous Judge, appears to be letting it happen. So, in typical biblical candor, he asks God, “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” If a person truly loves, trusts, and treasures God above all else, can he pray like that? Can someone who rejoices in God ever lament God’s apparent distance and disregard? 

In short, yes. In fact, Christian Hedonists pray to God this way at certain times because he is our “exceeding joy,” because we treasure him, because we love him. And because sometimes God’s ways and timing are agonizingly difficult to grasp. We see this sorrowful-yet-rejoicing dynamic in the brutal realities of Psalm 10. 

Why Did God Feel Far? 

First, we need to understand what was troubling this psalmist. He pours out his distress: 

“In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor [because he is] greedy for gain” (Psalm 10:2–3). 

He “curses and renounces the Lord” (even denies God’s existence) (Psalm 10:3–4). 

“His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression” (Psalm 10:7). 

“In hiding places he murders the innocent” (Psalm 10:8). 

“He seizes the poor when he draws him into his net” (Psalm 10:9). 

The poor are being exploited and even slaughtered by someone in a position of power (perhaps more than one) for the sake of financial benefit. The victims are in a “helpless” or defenseless position and so “are crushed, sink down, and fall by [the wicked person’s] might” (Psalm 10:10). These would be unspeakable deeds, except that silence would only compound the injustice of it all. Therefore, like Jeremiah, the psalmist “cannot keep silent” (Jeremiah 4:19). 

What Faith Sounds Like in Crisis 

The psalmist strives to put the wickedness he sees into words. We can sense his righteous anger. Such horrible oppression and injustice should make him (and us) angry. 

But though the psalmist is addressing God with urgent earnestness, I don’t believe his anger is directed toward God. It’s directed toward the wicked who are wreaking such destruction. The psalmist is turning to God with his burning indignation toward evil perpetrators, and his tearful compassion toward victims because his hope is in God to bring justice and deliverance to bear. That’s why he prays. 

We too witness, and sometimes are victims of, such wicked injustices. In our day, innocent, defenseless unborn babies are legally murdered, and children as well as vulnerable or entrapped adults are trafficked for sex, all financially profiting those perpetrating the injustices. In the face of such things, we cannot keep silent. First and foremost, before God. Out of compassion for afflicted ones and righteous anger toward perpetrators, we pour out our lamenting hearts to the God in whom we hope (Psalm 43:5) and from whom we receive hope (Psalm 62:5). 

Learning to Cry Out in Crisis 

But still, those opening lines of the psalm sound like God is the recipient of at least some of the psalmist’s anger: 

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
     Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1

If that’s not anger or disillusionment or disappointment, what is it? It’s putting into words the painful perplexity of a crisis of faith. 

Now, a faith crisis should not be confused with faith abandonment. Nearly every saint experiences faith crises of different kinds, and typically we must endure faith crises in order for faith to grow and strengthen — more on that in a moment. But the clearest evidence that this psalmist is not forsaking God is the presence of this psalm — the psalmist is praying! And in his prayer, he’s doing with God what all of us do with those we love and cherish deeply who act (or seem not to act) in ways we don’t understand: he’s honestly expressing his confusion and pain. 

The psalmist’s soul is troubled that his biblically informed knowledge of God’s character does not seem to match the reality he’s observing. He believes “God is a righteous judge” (Psalm 7:11) who “executes justice” for the helpless and vulnerable (Deuteronomy 10:18). But he’s not seeing justice executed for the helpless and vulnerable. He’s seeing the wicked oppressor of the helpless “prosper at all times” (Psalm 10:5). Why God isn’t immediately stopping this injustice is beyond him. It’s a moment of crisis for him, and he’s telling God so. 

I think it wrong, however, to assume that, because the psalmist asks God why he seems distant or hidden, he’s blaming God or scolding God for neglecting his responsibilities. What he’s doing is describing his experience of reality — the way the situation appears to him through his finite senses. And the reason he’s praying this way is precisely because he cares so deeply for God, because he loves and trusts God. 

This is a faithful Christian response to a faith crisis. When we are painfully perplexed by the apparent discontinuity between what we know of God from the Scripture and what we observe in the world, when the mystery of God’s providential purposes meets the finiteness of our understanding, and it doesn’t make sense to us, God wants us to cry out to him. He wants us to cry out to him precisely because we love and trust him, even when our experience challenges what we believe. 

Forging Christian Hedonists 

The fact that the Bible speaks so honestly about reality is part of its self-authenticating quality; unvarnished honesty is one sign of sincerity and truth. And the fact that the Bible features a psalmist’s faith crisis over the problem of evil is part of why the Psalms have comforted so many for so long; we experience such crises too. 

Sooner or later, every Christian experiences a faith crisis — some of us numerous ones. But a crisis of faith does not mean a loss of faith. In fact, it is often through faith crises that we learn what faith really is. 

Scripture is full of accounts of saints enduring many kinds of faith crises, where the God who governs reality, in all its bloody brutality, does not meet the saints’ understanding and expectations, leading those saints to wrestle deeply. The Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith” is lined with such saints, who through crises learned what it really means to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). 

I mentioned earlier that Christian Hedonists love to pray Psalm 73:25–26

Whom have I in heaven but you?
     And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
     but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 

What I didn’t mention is that Psalm 73 is another account of a faith crisis, and this prayer is part of the fruit of that crisis. So, when your own crises come, don’t assume your faith, love, and joy are gone, but that God wants to grow them in the furnace of affliction. Because the forging of a Christian Hedonist often occurs in the fires of a faith crisis. 

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as teacher and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities. 

Daily Light – Feb 1, 2021

The Lost We Love the Most 

Evangelism to Friends and Family 

Article by Stephen Witmer Pastor, Pepperell, Massachusetts 

What is more difficult than sharing the gospel for the first time with someone you love? Sharing the gospel for the tenth time with someone you love — even after they’ve already (repeatedly) responded with rejection or indifference. 

At that point, we often feel stuck, as though we’ve played to a stalemate with our friend, child, neighbor, or spouse. We’ve prayed faithfully, spoken the gospel clearly, and loved patiently. But there’s been no sign of movement or progress. What more can we do? 

We don’t plan on giving up. Too much is at stake. But we know that unwanted repetition of the same gospel words may repel rather than attract, harden rather than soften. So, what to do next? Tiptoe around in conversation? Settle for pleasantries? We’re left feeling weary and discouraged. We might grow cynical and resign ourselves to what feels like the inevitable reality that the person we care about won’t ever follow Jesus. 

What do we say when we’ve already said it all? How can we persevere in pursuing the lost we love? 

How to Get Unstuck 

There are several helpful responses to those of us who struggle in this way. First, it may be that we’re too focused on our own ability (or lack thereof) to win the person we love. 

Jesus points us away from ourselves and to the sovereignty of God. We can trust that, in his time, God will draw his people to his Son (John 6:44). It may be that we’re too absorbed with our present lack of success. The apostle Paul points us instead to the future: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). 

Another cause of our despair and confusion may be Satan’s lie that we’re dealing with a static situation. Deep down, we’re convinced nothing’s ever going to change. Our reason for feeling this way may be an unspoken belief that runs something like this: I have an unchanging gospel to share, and I’ve already shared it (multiple times!). I have nothing more to offer. I’ve done all I can. Nothing’s going to change. 

But what if evangelism is about more (not less) than sharing the content of the gospel? What if people are more complex and unpredictable than we may think? And what if the situation with our spouse, friend, child, parent, or neighbor is more dynamic than Satan would have us believe? In the face of an apparent stalemate, it’s refreshing and encouraging to remind ourselves of three dynamic realities in any relationship with a lost loved one. 

This Person Will Change 

It’s all too easy to believe that the loved one who has repeatedly brushed you off or beaten you down will always reject the gospel. But people change. There’s a popular myth that every cell in our bodies is replaced every seven years, so that we’re literally different people every 84 months. While untrue, it’s a helpful metaphor for what really is the case. A 45-year-old you is (or will be) a different person from the 35-year-old you (who was different from the 25-year-old you). And this should make us hopeful. 

I have a friend who shares the gospel with hundreds of nursing-home residents every year. The pandemic has radically altered his ministry, but he’s been creative, often visiting residents over an iPad held by a nursing home attendant. Not long ago, my friend asked supporters to pray for a resident named Bob. Pre-COVID Bob wasn’t terribly interested in the gospel. But there’s been a dramatic change. Now Bob is wide open to the gospel, eager for visits, prayer, and Bible reading. 

God used a virus to do that. Who could have predicted that? None of us knows what life changes are next for those we love. When their circumstances change, so may they. Suddenly, they may see the gospel as no longer worthless or irrelevant, but as precious and essential. 

You Will Change 

During my graduate studies, I shared a house with several other students, one of whom was an Englishman. We saw each other fairly often in the kitchen while preparing meals, and in the course of our many conversations, it was often natural for me to say things like, “I was reading something interesting in the Bible this morning,” or, “I was really challenged by what I heard at church today.” This was just me being me, sharing my own life (as friends do). 

Over time, I was able to share the gospel with my friend through these kitchen conversations. At the time, I didn’t realize all that was happening in his life. He was hurting and searching, and the gospel came to be attractive to him. One particular evening, one I’ll never forget, he stopped me in the living room of the house we shared and told me that he had become a Christian. 

One of the reasons we feel stuck in our evangelism may be that we’ve wrongly narrowed down our task to sharing a message about how to be saved. That message is crucial and central, but if it’s all we have to share, and we’ve already shared it, and it’s already been rejected, we might feel stuck. But our task is richer, deeper, and fuller than that. We’re to share the gospel and our own selves (1 Thessalonians 2:8), because a life redeemed by the gospel retells the gospel but with unique, personal, and relatable details. 

So, there are many additional fruitful gospel conversations to be had even after our loved one has rejected the gospel. For instance, we can continue to express what the gospel means to us. We can share how new struggles and setbacks are helping us to trust Christ more. It’s entirely possible to do this in a way that is natural, unforced, and not preachy. As we experience more of the Christ we love, we can express this to the people we love. We’re never stuck with just one thing to say. 

Your Friendship Will Change 

I have a longtime friend who doesn’t know Jesus. I’ve frequented his business establishment for many years, not so much because I think I need what he’s selling, but because I know he needs what I’m giving away. 

Early on in our friendship, we chitchatted about the weather and sports. Then we started sharing about our kids and families. In the years since, we’ve talked about things like church, the gospel, death, and friendship. When I’m in his shop by myself, the conversation can go very deep very quickly. I’ve invited him to church numerous times and he’s never accepted. I’ve explained the gospel, and he hasn’t believed. But I have hope, in part because our friendship isn’t static. 

I can say more to him now than I could five years ago. What might I be able to say five years from now? Don’t assume your relationship with your friend, child, neighbor, or spouse will always be where it is today. In fact, assume it will change. And ask God to open doors through those changes. 

Don’t Give Up 

My friend who ministers in nursing homes told me about a man named Rich, a former engineer, living in a nursing home. One July afternoon a year or two ago, after a conversation in his room, Rich decided that he wanted to know Jesus. He prayed and invited Jesus to be his Savior. Soon afterward, he began a course of discipleship with my friend, reading through the Gospel of John together. Rich was 98 years old. 

I wonder how many people had shared the gospel with Rich over the course of many years and not broken through? I wonder how many had given up hope? But after 98 years, God saved him. 

Please don’t lose heart. Don’t believe the lie that nothing will ever change, that there’s nothing more for you to say or do. Don’t settle into the conviction that your spouse, child, neighbor, or friend will never come to know Jesus. Keep praying. Keep patiently speaking as you have opportunity. Keep loving with the love of Jesus. Keep sharing the twists and turns of your own life as you cling to Jesus and grow in him. Keep persevering in pursuing the lost you love. 

Stephen Witmer (@stephenwitmer1) is the pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the cofounder of Small Town Summits, an organization that serves rural churches and pastors, and has written Eternity Changes Everything and A Big Gospel in Small Places. He and his wife, Emma, have three children.