Category Archives: gospel

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.

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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.

Why Do We Use the Bible In Evangelism?

One of the great joys for a Christian is telling another person about the salvation that they have found in Christ. We are especially happy to tell people who don’t have Christ or salvation, so that they too can have forgiveness of their sins and enter into the joy of the Master.

Because evangelism is such a big part of our Christian lives, there are some “ought-to’s” that go along with it. Our evangelism ought to be creative, personal, and friendly. It ought to be relevant, culturally appropriate, and an aspect of our daily living in the world, with the world. But if all those things are going on, what about the Bible? Does the Bible need to be there too? What if it feels a little socially awkward or socially untasteful; can we forgo making a biblical reference to the gospel?

Maybe someone would respond by saying, “Every situation is different. Different situations allow for different things. ” I would agree with that. I think that it is right and good to acknowledge that most of us don’t always quote Scripture verses or give an outline of the gospel in every conversation we have with non-Christians. But this acknowledgement may miss something very important. The most important, indeed the only essential element to true evangelism, is the word of the gospel. If we indefinitely postpone or ignore that, then we are not actually doing evangelism no matter how friendly and relevant we are.

God creates a people for Himself using His Word to give them life (Ezk. 37:7-10). The Word is the means by which God gives his people faith. The Holy Spirit sovereignly uses the Word to produce faith in the hearer. The Holy Spirit enables the individual to respond positively in repentant faith to the word that is heard.

 Consider the claims that the Scripture makes for the Word which brings life.

  • “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have given to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:63)
  • “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17)
  • “And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” (1 Thess. 2:13)
  • “In the exercise of his will, he brought us forth by the word of truth…in humility receive the implanted word which is able to save your souls.” (Jam. 1:18, 21)
  • “For you have been born again not of seed that is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.” (1 Pet. 1:23)
  • “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3)
  • “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32)
  • “So the word of the Lord was growing mighty and prevailing” (Acts 19:20)
  • “‘The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?’ declares the LORD. ‘Is not My word like a fire?’ declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer that shatters a rock?’” (Jer. 23:28-29)

 There are a lot of good things that can be, even ought to be, a part of our evangelism. But there is only one thing that is necessary for the Holy Spirit to bring a sinner to respond savingly to God. That one thing is the word of the gospel.

R. B. Kuiper helpfully puts it this way:

“It is a matter of supreme importance to maintain that the Word of God is the one and only indispensable means by which the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of men. Although this does not mean that the Word always operates in isolation from every other conceivable factor, another factor never serves as a substitute for the Word. At most it is only auxiliary and subsidiary to the Word.”[1]

So let your creativity lift the gospel up for eyes to see it. Let your holiness match the gospel so that our lives commend it. Let your earthiness be salty from the gospel so that people will taste it. And most of all, let your lips speak the gospel so the world will have the opportunity to believe it. 


[1]R. B. Kuiper, God-Centered Evangelism, p. 141.

Jesus, the Sin of Men and the Righteousness of God

Richard Hooker helps us to remember the significance of the cross of Christ:

“Such are we in the sight of God the Father, as is the very Son of God himself…It is our wisdom and our comfort; we care for no knowledge in the world but this, that man hath sinned and God has suffered; that God hath made himself the sin of men, and the righteousness of God.”[1]


[1] quoted by John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 197.

Survey the Cross With A Little Help From Our Friends

“When I survey the wonderous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.”

Isaac Watts first published this hymn in 1707. Interestingly, I am told that it was the first English speaking hymn that ever used the word “I.” This signifies the appreciation that Watts had for personal experience in worshipping God. Watts was personally affected, and personally forgiven, and personally, blessed, and personally saved by God’s grace to his people through the cross of Christ. He knew that singing, as well as preaching, ought to help us to personally worship God by filling our hearts with gospel truths that we share with all God’s people.

I am looking forward to being helped to survey the cross this evening at Grace and Truth Community Church. I don’t think Isaac Watts will show up but we will have singing which reminds us of why the cross of Christ is good news. Not only that, but we will also have the opportunity to hear the preaching of seven men from the congregation who will speak on the last seven things that Christ is recorded in Scripture to have said from the cross. This is a great opportunity for us as Christians to appreciate God’s Son with God’s people. Truly a blessing!

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16)  

Engaging Homosexuals With the Gospel

The Church is called to be a prophetic voice for God in the world. The Church’s voice should ring with both clarity and with charity. It should be both truthful and loving.

When it comes to engaging people who practice a homosexual lifestyle there are a few things that the Bible teaches that we should keep in mind.

1. We should be willing to call a spade a spade and a sin a sin. Homosexual behavior is a sin against God (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; Gen. 19, cf. 2 Pet.  2:6-10). There is a lot of pressure on Christians today to shy away from describing homosexuality as a sin. The social pressure to capitulate here will probably only increase with time. But Christians have to be anchored on the Word of God as their authority on this issue. Even if it means being considered “fools for Christ’s sake” (1 Cor. 4:10).

2. When it comes to relationships with actual flesh and blood people, we should generally try to avoid an an “us vs. them” mentality in our conversations. Certainly the Bible diagnoses homosexuality as a sin and as a sypmtom of unbelief. And yet, the ability to persuade involves an attempt to identify with others in appropriate ways. Christians can do this. In fact, we should be able to do this better than anyone else. We who are redeemed sinners ourselves can certainly relate to the sinful tendencies of our fellow man. After all, “such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11). It would be great, then, to hear more Christians say,

“I love homosexuals and wish we had more of them attending our church on Sunday morning. At the same time, I trust you will appreciate me being lovingly candid with you regarding the truth of God’s Word regarding homosexuality….”

How, then, should we go about engaging homosexuals with the gospel? Here are some notes that I took from David Powlison which I have found helpful and edited a bit for posting here.

  1. Know the people you are talking to on a personal level as much as you can. What are their questions? What do they care about most deeply? What do they feel most strongly about?
  2. Enter their story. Get on their ground. Use their language. Enter the world of their experience. The message of the gospel is going to make their world mean something different than it currently means to them. If you know the meaning and interpretation that they currently give to their life you will be in a better position to show how the gospel of Jesus connects to it.
  3. Retell their story. The gospel has a change agenda that we should always be alert to. Tell the story of their life with their words, their authorities, their experience but look for inner contradictions, unanswered questions, etc. There is inevitably a certain dissonance right in their lived experience which the gospel can speak to. Retell their story “on their turf.” Bring out stuff from their life that has been neglected or ignored or never seen.
  4. Tell our story afresh. If I know my audience, if I have entered their world and if I have retold their story, the gospel, the revelatory truth of God is not going to be boilerplate. It is going to be tailored afresh to the needs, urgencies, of that moment and of that person. The eternal gospel is going to appear amazingly relevant and personal. 
  5. Call to re-orientation. The Bible uses the term repentance which means a complete change of mind and life direction. Urge the person to redirect their mind and life in light of God’s truth.

The gospel is the greatest news the world has ever heard. May God bless his message as you share it.

How Practical Is the Gospel?

Is the gospel relevant, practical, useful medicine for the soul in today’s world? Yes, yes and yes! Yes because the gospel is promise and it is grace. The gospel is help for the weak, mercy for the unworthy, and salvation for the condemned. The gospel binds up the broken-hearted and plants them as oaks of righteousness by the grace of God and the cross of Christ. The gospel is good news for sinners no matter what their situation in life. The gospel changes everything.

Richard Baxter’s counsel is good, practical gospel medicine:

 “Choose out some promises most suitable to your condition, and roll them over and over in your mind, and feed and live on them by faith. If he be most troubled with the greatness of his sin, let it be such as… ‘For I will be merciful unto their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more’ (Heb. 8:12). If it be the weakness of his grace that troubles him, let him choose ‘All that the Father gives me, shall come to me, and him that comes to me, I will in no wise cast out’ (John 6:37). If it be the fear of death, and strangeness to the other world, that troubles you, remember the words of Christ before cited, and 2 Corinthians 5:8, ‘We are confident, and willing rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord.’ Fix upon some such word or promise, which may support you in your eternity.” – Richard Baxter, “Directions for a Peaceful Departure,” O Love That Will Not Let Me Go, ed. by Nancy Guthrie, p. 99-100.

My God And My Joy

“You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance” (Ps. 32:7)

Spurgeon comments:

“Personal claims upon our God are the joy of spiritual life. To lay our hand upon the Lord with the clasp of a personal ‘my’ is delight at its full. Observe that the same man who in the fourth verse was oppressed by the presence of God, here finds shelter in him. See what honest confession and full forgiveness will do! The gospel of substitution makes him to be our refuge who otherwise would have been our judge.”