Category Archives: Christian living

The Essence of the Christian Life

B.B. Warfield is a giant when it comes to 20th century Christian theology and has made contributions in many areas. Carl Trueman draws attention to a great paragraph from a book review that Warfield had published in which he describes as the “essence” of Christianity.

 It belongs to the very essence of the type of Christianity propagated by the Reformation that the believer should feel himself continuously unworthy of the grace by which he lives. At the center of this type of Christianity lies the contrast of sin and grace; and about this center everything else revolves. This is in large part the meaning of the emphasis put in this type of Christianity on justification by faith. It is its conviction that there is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only “when we believe.” It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place, or that can take a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just “miserable sinners”: “miserable sinners” saved by grace to be sure, but “miserable sinners” still, deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath. That is the attitude which the Reformers took, and that is the attitude which the Protestant world has learned from the Reformers to take, toward the relation of believers to Christ.

She Is Far More Precious Than Jewels

King Lemuel’s mother taught him wise words about the value of a godly wife. Before describing this admirable woman in detail, momma Lemuel said:

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (Prov. 31:10)

In other words, the value of this woman can’t even be estimated by the currency of the day. She is off the charts of the gold standard. If your mind has trouble wrapping itself around the huge monetary value of the U. S. national debt, just give it up when it comes to this gal. Her value…is inestimable.

But notice what follows verse 10. What follows is a frankly domestic description of this excellent woman. She is a homemaker par excellence. This will sound abrasive to those of us whose ears have been trained by modern feminist ideology. But this reaction is just a matter of upside-down priorities and unbiblical ambitions. And to be clear, whether a wife finds her calling to require work outside the home is not the issue. The Proverbs 31 woman did (Prov. 31:14, 16, 24).  Godly women in the New Testament did (1 Tim. 5:10). But even when this is the case, the tail shouldn’t wag the dog. A woman’s purpose in the home shouldn’t take a backseat to her pursuits outside of the home. 

Dorothy Patterson comments on this idea from Proverbs 31:

“The ideal woman in Proverbs 31:10-31 is clearly pouring her energies into her home, the management of her household, the rearing of her children, the helping of her husband. Whatever she does relating to property transactions or producing and selling merchandise is obviously secondary and related to the bartering common to that time.”[1]

And lest we think that Mrs. Patterson is merely suffering from too many reruns of Little House on the Prairie, we ought to remember that by wordly standards she is a rather accomplished woman as well. She is a graduate level professor, a successful author of both books and journal articles, a sought-after speaker, and the general editor of The Women’s Study Bible. Yet she happily describes herself primarily as “a homemaker” and this is the calling that “has always commanded her time, energy, and creativity.” So the old argument that “you just don’t know what joy and sense of fulfillment there are in wordly accomplishments” falls flat. May her tribe increase. And may the ladies reading this post be one of that tribe.

A recent post from the Gospel Coalition drives this point home well in a recent post, How Much Is a Homemaker Worth? Here is a snippet:

The Story: A study conducted by the financial service company Mint found that the sum value of different homemaking duties annually amounts to almost six figures. If a homemaker’s job were salaried, it would draw, on average, $96,291 per year. Tasks accounted for in the study included private chef, house cleaner, child care provider, driver, and laundry service provider.


[1] A Handbook For Minister’s Wives, p. 155.

Sanctification and the Gospel

Recent blog activity has been slow due to my two months of summer Hebrew which will be wrapping up at the end of August. Things on the blog will be picking up pace again after that. But I am breaking the silence to post a link to this worthwhile article on the Reformation 21 blog about a current discussion that is taking place about Christian sanctification. The question being debated is how the gospel relates to the Christian life, or more specifically, how justification relates to sanctification.

Since some are unfamiliar with this debate, the author, William Evans, first takes time to outline some of the recent exchanges. Then he takes a critical look at some of the issues. He has a discerning eye and does an excellent job of clarifying some of the mistakes that are being made. I recommend his thoughts for your consideration.

Can a Christian Be Carnal?

Is it true that a Christian can be carnal (fleshy)? The Apostle Paul says yes in his letter to the Corinthian church.

 “But I, brother, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

 But what does Paul mean by that?

That has proven to be a more difficult question for people to answer. One of the most popular answers given after the turn of the 20th century has made this passage the main proof-text for a novel doctrine of the Christian life. As Bible expositor, D. A. Carson comments:

 “Certainly there is such a thing as a carnal or worldly Christian, but the ‘carnal Christian’ theory has in recent years taken on some fairly weird extremes that bear little relation to what this chapter actually says.”[1]

 What are the “weird extremes” that have developed in the form of a new theory that Carson mentions? Many proponents of this theory could be cited but one popular representative is found in the teaching of Charles Ryrie. Given his popularity, before we ask what Paul means by carnal (fleshy), lets be clear what Ryrie means.

Ryrie defines carnal this way: “To have the characteristics of an unsaved life either because one is an unbeliever or because, though a believer, one is living like an unsaved person.”[2] He clarifies that while a true Christian will bear some fruit at some point, that “does not mean that a certain person’s fruit will necessarily be outwardly evident”[3] In other words, Ryrie says that “a saving, living faith” may be “visible or not.”[4] Advocates of this teaching[5], such as Ryrie, say that 1 Corinthians 2-3 is teaching that there are three ultimate categories of people in the world: (1) the “natural man” (non-Christian), (2) the “carnal man” (Christian who lives like a non-Christian), and (3) the “spiritual man” (Christian).

 One ways that Ryrie defends this new theory on the Christian life is to invent a new kind of repentance that does not have anything to do with sin. I have written elsewhere to explain that this is not a biblical perspective [I Would Like To Add Jesus To My Pile Of Idols Please]. In this post, however, I want to focus on the nature of the Christian life that follows conversion. Here I want to correct the wrong idea that a person can live their life in a way that is no different from their non-Christian friends and still consider themselves a Christian. As Jesus said “you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:20).

 So, the question is: were the Corinthians living with “the characteristics of an unsaved life,” as Ryrie says? What kind of people does Paul think he is dealing with when he accuses them of being carnal?

We can answer this question in two ways:

 First, the Corinthians lives were different than their non-Christian friends and neighbors. Although there were many sinful patterns in the Corinthian church, there was also much that showed God’s grace. Look how Paul starts off describing these ‘carnal’ or ‘fleshy’ people:

  • Those who openly and continually call on the name of the Lord (1:2).
  • They used to be “sexually immoral…idolaters…adulterers…men who practice homosexuality…thieves…greedy… drunkards…revilers…[and] swindlers” (6:9-11). But now they were different.
  • Now, they have been “washed…sanctified…justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11).
  • They had consistent church attendance, gathering with the church for worship on at least a weekly basis (11:17, 18, 20; 14:26; 16:2).
  • They were active in the ministry of the church and exhibited a rich diversity of spiritual gifts (1:7, 12-14).
  • They had an accurate knowledge of much biblical truth and a recognized ability to communicate it (1:5).
  • At times Paul could refer to them as “sensible people” (10:15).
  • Paul even commended them for how accurately they remembered his teachings and kept them diligently (11:2).
  • They were very interested in spiritual things and were eagerly asking questions about spiritual things, even to the point of writing letters to Paul looking for answers (7:1ff.).

 Now, let me stop to ask, does this sound like the description that Ryrie and company were giving of someone who is completely “living like an unsaved person”? It should be clear at this point that the Apostle Paul and Charles Ryrie mean two totally different things when they refer to the carnal Corinthians.

It is true that Paul recognizes many sins in their lives but he also notices many graces that evidence true conversion as well. This second point is precisely what Ryrie overlooks. Ryrie misinterprets these verses in 3:1-4 because he doesn’t interpret them in light of the context of the whole book. As a result, his perspective on the character of the Corinthians is lopsided and his subsequent teaching on the Christian life ends up out of balance.

But there is one more thing to notice which eliminates the possibility of Ryrie’s interpretation.

 Second, the biblical practice of church discipline eliminates the possibility that Ryrie’s interpretation could be correct. Paul says people who live sinfully should be put out of the membership of the church and considered non-Christians. One of the reasons that people say we have a lot of hypocrites in the church today, is because…we really do have a lot of hypocrites in the church today! But this is not how it should be according to Scripture. If a person talks a good talk but then walks a totally different walk, Paul tells the Corinthians that they cannot continue to keep him as a member of the church.

This is because the person whose lifestyle fails to live in light of the gospel shows that they are not really a Christian after all (15:2-3).  Even if they swear up and down that they have been saved by Christ, if their life doesn’t match their lips the church should not believe them. Paul calls them “so-called brothers” (5:11). In other words, they are pseudo-Christians, not “carnal Christians” in the way that Ryrie and others define the term. As a result of their unrepentant lifestyle, the local congregation has the responsibility of removing them from the membership of the church so that Christ’s name is not dragged through the mud (5:9-13).  

 Ok, so we know what Paul doesn’t mean. But what does Paul mean when he says the Corinthians are acting carnal?

Paul is teaching the Corinthians that the gospel changes the way a Christian views every aspect of their life.  

Paul’s point is this…Christians are truly different because of the gospel. Therefore the gospel should change the way the Christian views every aspect of their lives. So when Christians think and act inconsistently with the gospel, they are thinging and acting according to the wisdom of the world and their carnal flesh. So when Paul saw the Corinthians jealous of one another and fighting with one another, he pointed out to them that they were failing to think and live in light of the cross.

So may your reality be reconstructed by the gospel. And may you be able to say with John Newton:  “‘I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I wish to be. I am not what I hope to be. Yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was. By the grace of God, I am what I am.’”[6]


[1] D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry, p. 69.

[2] Charles Ryrie, So Great a Salvation, p. 143.

[3] ibid., p. 42.

[4] ibid., p. 43.

[5] Ryrie’s view didn’t start with him. He developed the view that was first advocated by his theological mentors Cyrus Ingerson (C. I.) Scofield, in the second edition of his Scofield Reference Bible (1917) and Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his book He That Is Spiritual (1918). More recent advocates of this doctrine are Chuck Smith of the Calvary Chapel movement and the Word of Life student ministry.

[6] Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, p. 104.

The Gospel Is For Christians

The gospel is the basic Christian message. If a person were to ask a Christian to summarize Christianity, the Christian would be right to answer by describing what the gospel is and what the gospel accomplishes. The Bible tells us the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). It is the message of a holy Creator God, a sinful and rebellious humanity who exist under God’s judgment, Jesus the loving Savior who bore God’s wrath for his people when he died on the cross for our sins, and a new creation where people are made right with God and each other through humble faith in the resurrected Christ. When people embrace this message, they are saved…they become Christians.

But what then? Once a Christian has been saved by the gospel, where should he set his sights? What does he need to know and do to mature and grow? Where should his focus be? Well, the same place he focused in the beginning of his Christian life…on Christ and his gospel. Sometimes there seems to be some confusion on this point. Sometimes it appears that once someone become a Christian through the gospel they get the sense that they need to move on to other bigger and better things to mature in their Christian life. The truth, however, is quite different. A Christian should never move away from the gospel. The Christian needs the gospel as much for his Christian walk as he did for his Christian conversion. There is nothing bigger or better to move on to!

As Paul rhetorically asked the Galatians, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” No, is the assumed answer. “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” the writer of Hebrews says. And the grace that strengthens a Christian still comes through the gospel. The gospel, then, is for sanctification.

In my experience, there is a doctrinal point that is often overlooked when a Christian is confused about this. It may help to understand that when God saves a person from sin and adopts them as His child, the work he does in their life is progressive. Salvation is a process. A Christian has been saved, is being saved right now, and will be saved in the future. Consider the following Scriptures:

Past:

Ephesians 2:5, 8 – “even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God”

 Present:

2 Corinthians 2:15 – “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing”

 Future:

Romans 5:9 – “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”

 Romans 13:11 – “And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.

 Some years ago I had a couple church leaders tell me that it is wrong for me to encourage the church to continue to believe the gospel. “If you tell people to keep believing the gospel,” one man reasoned, “it implies that maybe they were never saved to begin with, or maybe they lost their salvation somewhere along the way.” But there is an error in this kind of thinking. My passionate critic understood what the gospel was. But he didn’t understand how it accomplishes its work. To put it a different way, he understood that the gospel is for salvation. But he didn’t understand that it is also for sanctification. 

Another way of putting this is that the gospel saves us and the gospel keeps saving us. The gospel is for the Christian, then, as much as it is for the non-Christian. We don’t lay the gospel aside and move on to bigger and better things.

As Paul clearly taught the Corinthians, “the word of the cross is to those who are perishing, foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The gospel, nothing more and nothing less, continues to be the power of God for those who are in the process of being saved by God. It is through the gospel that Christians grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

The Sinkhole Syndrome

“Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)

“Sink or swim” the adage goes. There is a very real sense in which that applies to the Christian life. Check out this very good article from Ligonier.

An Enterprise Worthy of Our Best Efforts

Holy ambition…unflinching courage…dogged resilience….all these noble qualities fit well with the Christian faith. The  life of Henry Havelock is an illustration of how the Christian ought to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12).

To Love Your Neighbor, You Must Know Your Neighbor

Here is a great post from Ben Stevens at The Gospel Coalition on loving your neighbor by actually loving your neighbors. Novel thought! He says:

When we moved into the complex, we thought a lot about “how hard it is to meet your neighbors.” And when we discussed the idea of a get-together with the few people we knew in our building, they also commented that it is “tough to have community in the suburbs.” But we were all wrong. It is not difficult to get to know your neighbors—it is simply not something most of us value.

The result is a culture of seclusion, and that culture strains our society in a surprising number of ways. Christians stand a better chance of changing the social landscape than anyone else. In fact, this societal problem presents us with the opportunity to confront that most elusive of all evangelical goals: to serve Christ and our neighbors in the surrounding culture at the same time.

He gives some practical suggestions:

1.) Invite everyone. That is, invite a large group of people, either your whole apartment building or your whole block. This will avoid the impression that you want to build a clique. It gives you a much higher chance for success. And it usually just makes the evening much more enjoyable.

2.) Spend money on nice flyers or invitations. For our first get-together, I spent a few hours with InDesign and made full-color flyers that had a picture of a tasteful dinner scene and the words, “We think it’s too bad we’ve never met all our neighbors.” People want to know your intentions, and they like to be invited to nice events. Do them the honor. It makes a difference.

3.) Plan the get together for a Sunday. This is not an absolute, but few people have major commitments on a Sunday at 1:30 p.m., which means more can come and fewer have to rush off. Try to plan ahead by at least three weeks.  

4.) Learn how to actively listen before you invite friends and neighbors over. Not only will you not have to prepare “entertainment” for these people, but if you are truly interested in who they are and don’t squash conversation as it happens, the entertainment will take care of itself.

 5.) Involve any of the other neighbors you can (potluck, progressive dinner). This helps ensure that they show up, and it also means they will feel more invested. Hopefully it will keep them from thinking you are trying to be some kind of social control freak.

 6.) Be transparent about your faith. When we first met with our neighbors, many were excited that we’d taken such a bold step. In that moment, I simply said: “This is something Christians value.” And in that one sentence, I had made my faith known and given all credit for something which the people openly liked about us to Christianity. Plain-spoken honesty is the best, and most effective, way to live with your neighbors.

You cannot love your neighbors if you don’t know them.  Get it on the calendar and have fun.

Read the whole thing.

Superhuman vs. Realistic Christianity

The way we think of ourselves, and our relationship to God, will greatly affect the way we live out our faith. Sometimes, in Christian zeal, we may slip into a tendency of presenting the Christian life in a way that is not realistic, and has the effect of discouraging our walk in Christ rather than encouraging it. A right view of the gospel will lead the Christian who stumbles back to Christ again and again as he is reminded of his own human fallenness and frailty. The difference between “superhuman” and “realistic” Christianity can be seen by comparing two of the first Christian biographies ever written.

The “superhuman” way of viewing the Christian life can be seen in the biography of St. Antony which was written in the fourth century. St Antony is recorded to have done miracles, battled demons in what was practically hand-to-hand combat, performed amazing feats of self-deprivation, and received direct visions from God. He is presented as the embodiment of holiness; sort of an untouchable, you might say.  You walk away from reading his biography thinking, “Man, I’m nothing like that guy. He was a super-Christian!”

The autobiographical Confessions of Augustine, on the other hand, presents a much more realistic view of life and conversion and Christianity. You find out that as a teenager, Augustine was stealing fruit from his neighbor’s tree with the guys from the neighborhood. What’s more, he knew all along that he didn’t even like the taste of them. He ended up throwing them to some pigs. He just did it because of the peer pressure and the thrill that went along with acting sinful. Later, as a young man, he developed a thirst for violent sports. While his conscience kept telling him it was wrong, he was repeatedly led astray (again by his peers). The thrill of sin got the best of him again. He describes major battles with lust, pride, and other sins. And yet, with his conversion, Augustine finds the freedom to love God whereas before he was only and always given over to love of self. He talks freely of seeking to love God supremely above all visible things. He has totally new desires that are at work in his life now that he is a Christian. And yet he admits candidly how his love has still at times been diverted to lesser things. You walk away from reading his biography thinking, “Man, that guy is just like me in a lot of ways. I guess I am a normal Christian!”

Which one of these views is reflected in the Bible, we might ask? What kind of people was the Bible addressed to? I would suggest the latter.

For example, the author of Hebrews was writing to a people whose track record was checkered at best. Some were in danger of hardening their hearts and not entering the rest of God (Heb. 3:7-11, 15, 18; 4:3-11). They, like ancient Israel, were often found to be ignorant, wayward, and beset with weakness (Heb. 5:2). By now they should have been teachers, but the reality was they still needed to be spoon-fed basic teaching (5:11-12).

Then he makes this tremendous statement:

“Though we speak this way, yet in your case beloved, we feel sure of better things-things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” (Heb. 6:9-10)

They have a checkered past, but the writer of Hebrews is confident that God’s grace is, and will continue to, produce good fruit in their lives. After all, there are certain things that “belong to salvation,” despite our sinful tendencies. This is a good example of how the Bible is taking a realistic view of man’s sinfulness on one hand, and a realistic view of God’s grace on the other.

This biblical realism is sometimes described as the already / not yet phenomena of the Christian life. We are already saved and sanctified (Eph. 2:8; 1 Cor. 6:11). On the other hand, we are not yet saved and sanctified (Rom. 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:23). Furthermore, in a very real sense, we are also being saved and sanctified (1 Cor. 1:18; Rom. 6:19, 22).

This just means that a biblical view of Christianity sees us as both sinners and saints. We have faith and yet also foibles. There is no sin that a Christian must now commit. Yet there is no way that a Christian can altogether avoid committing sin. In light of this kind of biblical realism about the Christian life, we are equipped to live for Christ without stumbling over false expectations. We are set up to look to the gospel for our hope rather than put confidence in the flesh.  

Now think back to Hebrews. Consider this appropriate exhortation the writer of Hebrews gives to his original readers and to us:

 “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6:11-12)

It’s Good For Me That I am Being Crucified Today

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) 

Are you grateful for your cross? Do you take it up with joy and gratitude? Do you appreciate it as a gift from God in your life?

Maybe these seem like unusual, even unreasonable, questions.  Imagine, then, this question in light of the thief on the cross. He was a rebel living his life his own way. He was a vile rebel at that. The message of Jesus hadn’t moved him one inch. In fact, one Gospel writer tells us that he was well aware of the claims of Christ and even mocked him for them initially (Matt. 27:44). This thief was so antagonistic to Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God and the King of Israel that in the midst of his own pain he could muster the energy to revile Christ for that “absurd” claim. 

But as he suffered there beside the Holy One of God, watching His unswerving integrity, watching His undiminished reliance on his Heavenly Father, listening to His words of selfless love to His few followers that were left…his heart was subdued by grace.

And God used this agonizing time of suffering to show him the reality of what Christ was doing for him on that cross. He came to realize that he was seeing the love of God in a form that he never could have imagined. How ironic that here, at the lowest point of his own misery, God had opened his eyes to the heights of mercy. Humanly speaking, his own crucifixion had become his pathway to Christ. He never understood or embraced the mesage of Christ until he had been exposed to it in this way. This crimminal could be thankful that his crucifixion was not postponed even a day, because it was through the means of his unspeakable suffering that he came face to face with the God of his salvation. Truly the thief on the cross could say “It was good for me that I was afflicted that I might learn your ways.” (Ps. 119:71).

The cross involves suffering. Good suffering. I know that sounds crazy. It sounded crazy to the mockers around the cross as well. But Jesus was made “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). There is a way in which what Jesus did on the cross was utterly unlike what we must do. He died for us. And yet, there is a way in which what Jesus did on the cross was very similar to what we must do. We must die with him. What was good for Jesus is also good for us. And this is part of what Christians must keep in mind when we daily take up our cross and follow Christ. We also, as sons and daughters of God, can say with the Psalmist: “It was good for me that I was afflicted that I might learn your ways.”