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There is No Faith So Little That it Is Not Saving

Aug 20, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
— Luke 1:18-20

Gabriel has come to tell the aged Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to a son (John the Baptist). You would think that when an angel scares you half to death, you’d believe what he says. But Zechariah doubts.

At this point of doubt, then, you might expect Gabriel to say, “Never mind, then. I’m taking my Baptist and going home.” And he does take something away from Zechariah — his voice. But he still gives Zechariah and Elizabeth the baby anyway.

This is a picture of grace. The “good news” (v.19) “will be fulfilled” (v.20).

I notice the interesting contrast between verse 20 and the declaration of Luke 1:6, that this couple was righteous, blameless keepers of the law. That God would call this doubting old man, who won’t believe when an angel is right before his face “blameless and righteous” is just further proof that there is no faith so little that it can’t be saving, that it’s not the strength of the faith that saves, but the strength of the Savior.

And it’s also proof that blamelessness and righteousness aren’t earned but given. If Zechariah and Elizabeth were given what they deserved and what their circumstances indicated, they’d just keep going through the motions, getting older than old and die. Instead, God blesses them according to his goodness, according to his glory, according to his strength, redeeming their circumstances, redeeming their time. Zechariah’s faith might have been little, and at the moment it mattered most, it was practically nonexistent — “you did not believe my words,” Gabriel says — but God’s saving plan will prevail.

There is no faith so little that it can’t be saving.

When we come to the end of this passage in v.25, Elizabeth is holding her pregnant belly and says, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

All hope seemed lost. For this couple and for Israel. But God would not be hindered by weak faith. Jesus says a faith the size of a mustard seed will move mountains. Despite all their weakness, God has taken away their reproach.

The shame, the accusation, the insults, the derision — taken away by God’s grace.

Jesus later calls Zechariah’s son “the greatest man born of woman” (Matt. 11:11). John went on to proclaim the Lord’s favor and prepare the way for the Messiah’s ministry by pointing people to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But he had his own moment of doubt at a low moment. (Like father, like son?)

John was in prison, awaiting his execution, and he sends word to ask of Jesus, “Are you really the one we’ve been waiting for?”

Do you remember that it’s in this exact same scene where Jesus calls John the greatest man who ever lived? This guy who just exposed his doubtful question in his moment of fearful weakness — the greatest?

There is no faith so little that it can’t be saving. Faith does not have to be strong to be saving, it just has to be real. The smallest faith, if it is real, receives the same strength of Christ in salvation as the strongest faith.

Your little strength is no hindrance for God. In fact, our weakness is God’s primary means of demonstrating his power, power that will be revealed gloriously even when our strength gives out totally and we die. For when we die, we will know only his power, which in the end will raise us up.

John the Baptist must have learned this somewhere along the way, maybe from his old dad Zechariah, because he declares in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

No matter your weakness, God is God. And no matter your faith — big and strong or tiny and feeble — if it is true faith, saved is saved.

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Do Not Let Your Sense of Failure Blind You to the Glory of Gospel Freedom

Aug 20, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

Memoirs-of-an-Ordinary-Pastor“When I was a young man, I heard D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comment that he would not go across the street to hear himself preach. Now that I am close to the age he was when I heard him, I am beginning to understand. It is rare for me to finish a sermon without feeling somewhere between slightly discouraged and moderately depressed that I have not preached with more unction, that I have not articulated these glorious truths more powerfully and with greater insight, and so forth. But I cannot allow that to drive me to despair; rather, it must drive me to a greater grasp of the simple and profound truth that we preach and visit and serve under the gospel of grace, and God accepts us because of his Son. I must learn to accept myself not because of my putative successes but because of the merits of God’s Son. The ministry is so open-ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like. There are always more people to visit, more studying to be done, more preparation to do. What Christians must do, what Christian leaders must do, is constantly remember that we serve our God and Maker and Redeemer under the gospel of grace. [My] Dad’s diaries show he understood this truth in theory, and sometimes he exulted in it (as when he was reading Machen’s What Is Faith?), but quite frankly, his sense of failure sometimes blinded him to the glory of gospel freedom.”

– D.A. Carson, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson (Crossway, 2008), 92-93.

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Jesus Never Ends

Aug 19, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

Jesus is patient and kind; he is not envious or boastful; he’s not arrogant or rude. He did not insist on his own way but following his Father’s will, left the glory of heaven to empty himself and serve us and sacrifice himself for us.

Jesus isn’t irritable or resentful. And Jesus keeps no record of wrongs that he might rejoice over us in our sins and failings – for he has forgiven us all our trespasses, throwing our sins into the depths of the sea to remember them no more and has JUSTIFIED us. Jesus rejoices with the truth of his grace that declares us righteous; he delights in us and over us.

Therefore, in Jesus we can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.

Jesus never ends.

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Walk in the Light

Aug 19, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
— 1 John 1:7

We feasted on this verse at our men’s discipleship group meeting last night. There is much to be nourished by here. One connection we do not often make is how “walking in the light” is connected to “having fellowship with one another.” But the connection is this: if we are not willing to step into the truth of confession, repentance, faithfulness, and the humility all that entails, no one can be in a real relationship with the real us. The less we are in the light, the less the true us is known. Whole relationships carry on in the dark sometimes, especially in churches, where everyone is in relationship with everybody’s projected version of themselves, with facades.

Here is Ray Ortlund on this passage from his great little book The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ:

A heart aloof from God grows aloof from others. It engages in merciless comparisons and endless faultfinding. Therefore, all restoration begins by going back to God first, prodigals that we are.

The wonderful thing is that, when we lose our way, God is not hard to find again. He has made himself very findable. He is “in the light” — right out there in the place of truth, honesty, openness, confession, and owning up. God himself awaits us there. We sinners can go to him freely through the cross of Christ. There in the light, but only in the light, everything gets better in our relationships with one another too.

The price we pay is to face ourselves. That is humiliating and painful. It’s why we shun the light. There are episodes in our past that we don’t want to think about — harsh words, acts of betrayal, broken promises, and worse. We shove these memories down into the darkness of our excuses and blame-shifting. We refuse to call sin “sin.” We feel too threatened by what we have done even to admit it to ourselves, much less confess it to others. But those places of deepest shame are where the Lord Jesus loves us the most tenderly. Is there any reason not to walk in his light together, where we recover fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin?

It is so refreshing to come back out into the light of honesty again, where we first met the Lord. It is there that ex-friends can be regained by love. It is there that Jesus is glorified in the eyes of the world.

Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.

(p.117)

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Depression and Common Grace

Aug 13, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

A few years ago I had a book published called Gospel Wakefulness. It is a very important book to me, as it came out of the second most important event of my life, second only to my conversion — the moment when the gospel became realer than real. And this happened out of a great personal disaster. I won’t rehash my testimony here; many of my readers are familiar with it. But it was important for me to include in this book a chapter on Depression. That may seem like an odd choice for a book about exulting in the grace of God with joy unspeakable and full of glory, but I wasn’t interested in applying the gospel to the happy-go-lucky. And this book out of all my books, and this chapter out of all my chapters, has prompted the most messages of appreciation. I trust it is helpful.

Below is an excerpt from this chapter, a portion that covers God’s gracious provision of ordinary “helps,” and a gracious encouragement to those hurting who are often further hurt by well-meaning churchfolk who inappropriately spiritualize such afflictions.

The first thing we may say about the bigness of Jesus is that he is big enough to help us in many ordinary means. Many Christians have adopted the unfortunate posture of Job’s friends, adding more discouragement to those discouraged in depression by urging them not to seek help except via spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study. These are certainly the most important prescriptions for any of us!

The fuller truth, however, is that while Jesus is enough, his enough-ness may be manifested in our getting help from material means. These too are gifts from God, provided through the common graces of scientific research, academic study, pastoral giftedness, analytic method, and modern medicine.

What I mean is this: talk to a trained counselor and take the meds if they are needed. When it comes to medication, at the very least, don’t not take it out of fear of distrust of Jesus. Antidepressants may or may not help you, but discuss the options with your doctor, preferably after conferring with a clinical psychologist who is also a Christian, and if you decide they are not for you, don’t decide so because you think to take them is to deny Jesus’s ability to heal.

Yes, Jesus is enough, but it must really be Jesus, not some invoking of the idea of Jesus, some platitude involving Jesus’s name, some hollow encouragement via cheap cliché. One question I’d ask those who’d suggest that those on medication for depression or anxiety should ditch the pills and just “trust Jesus” is if they’ve ever been to the doctor for anything, taken medicine for anything. Do they wear glasses or contact lenses? Why? Isn’t Jesus enough? (Do you drive a car? Why doesn’t Jesus beam you to work?)

I’m being silly, but I really am not trying to be reductive. The problem with “Jesus should be enough” in response to the question, “should Christians take anti-depressants?” is that the Jesus in view in the assertion is disembodied. He is an idea, a concept. I don’t think Christians can say with any integrity, “Jesus is enough,” without attempting to do what Jesus did to “be Jesus” for people, which frequently included meeting their physical and emotional needs. The gospel truth of “Jesus is enough” doesn’t have some vague, ethereal, unincarnated spiritual meaning.

That we have medicine to help us heal physically and psychologically is a gift from Jesus, just as salvation from sins is a gift from Jesus. Of course, if I had to take one over the other, I would take pain now and heaven later, but that’s theoretical, and thankfully I don’t often have to choose one or the other.

And it certainly isn’t the gospel of Jesus to heap guilt on people who need medical help to be healthy people. Jesus may heal any of us without ordinary means—and I do believe he heals today by purely Spiritual means, what most of us would call a miracle—but this kind of healing is not normative. And that’s all right. Medicine is not a mandate for the depressed person. But neither is it off limits. It can be, properly prescribed and taken, a gift of common grace. Likewise, seeking help from a pastoral counselor or Christian psychologist is nothing to be ashamed of.

– from Gospel Wakefulness (Crossway, 2011)

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Building and Destroying, Transforming and Terrifying — All with a Word

Aug 06, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

It shouldn’t work. It makes no sense. It is not lofty wisdom and it is not a miraculous sign, as far as signs expected go. It’s really just a message, an announcement. When you break it down — you know, information-wise — it’s really simply an historical anecdote.

But it’s really all we’ve got.

See, while some seek to persuade by barbarism or bribery, by marauding or manipulation, we’ve got a message. (shrug)

Some religious missions will put a knife to your throat. In this one, the only throat threatened may be our own. Some crack the metaphorical whip, the leverage of the law. Us? Anything we might hand out says not “to do” but “was done.” What the heck are we thinking?

As Rabshakeh asked Hezekiah, “Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war?” (2 Kings 18:20).

The answer is yes. Yes, we do.

Because this news of a thing done two thousand years ago is power today straight from another world. It crushes strongholds, destroys spiritual kingdoms. It resurrects the dead, revives the weary. It captures and frees, builds and destroys, transforms and terrifies. The infernal prince of the power of the air? One little word shall fell him.

Some seek wisdom and others seek signs. But we preach Christ crucified. Foolishness. Scandalizing. Where the magnificent gears of religious machinations turn, while the scrolls of philosophy endlessly unfurl, while the cult of spiritual thuggery keeps up its march of bloodshed and tyranny, we sing “Jesus loves me, this is I know. For the Bible tells me so.” It’s for children, for God’s sake.

And yet in a world of perverse wickedness, of rampant injustice, of deep brokenness, of desperation and of despair — this one little message is our only hope.

And it is the only power. You cannot stop it. One day every knee and tongue will be compelled to respond to this laughable notion, be it with regret or reverence.

Dress for action like a man, world. The gospel is coming.

[T]he word of the truth, the gospel, [has come] to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing.
— Colossians 1:5-6

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We Have Nothing to Offer the One Who Offers Us Everything

Aug 05, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

1518715_10152545097263632_1114579698867472975_o1. I’m a complete idiot.
2. My future’s incredibly bright.
3. Anyone can get in on this.

– Ray Ortlund, The Immanuel Church Mantra

In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil, first with that bread we’re always hungering for. And Jesus is certainly hungry. But his eyes are not on signs but on the signified. Second, then, the Devil tells the Lord to throw himself off the temple and into the arms of the angels. Is this religious self-interest not the leaven of the Pharisees? Jesus, wary of this leaven, refuses. So the tempter offers Jesus the world, the leaven of Herod. And where Adam and Eve failed, Christ succeeds. He does not use the world’s wisdom to persevere, for if he did, he would certainly stuff his face, take the plunge, and seek the greedy gain. Instead, the embodiment of wisdom walks by faith and puts wickedness to shame.

And he does all of this to save his stupid friends who cannot see it to do it themselves. It is for this reason that Paul begins his great gospel proclamation in 1 Corinthians 15 with, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you” (v. 1).

Do you not yet understand? Is your heart hard? Jesus is specializing in complete idiots! He specifically prefers them. The future of those yahoos in the boat scratching their heads about the forgotten bread is, despite themselves, incredibly bright.
And because Jesus specializes in enlightening the foolish and strengthening the weak, anyone can get in on this.

If you look to Jesus, the bread of life, and ask him to satisfy your hunger, he will not give you a stone. He will give you himself. Let us then stop begging for signs and start beholding Jesus.

There is one great sign that you are loved more than you thought. It is the cross. And there is a still further sign that you will live in this love forever. It is the empty tomb.

Come, you who hunger, bring your nothingness and trade it for the abundant wine and bread of Jesus Christ.

The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles (Crossway, 2014), pp.58-59.

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Might As Well Call Jesus the “Daughter of God”

Aug 05, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
— John 5:18

Okay, so the biggest problem with the quasi-evangelicals justifying their referring to God as “Mother” is not necessarily their feminist ideology or their misapplying actual biblical metaphors (like Matthew 23:37, for instance). Those are serious problems of course, but the real trouble lies in the very area in which they claim continuity with orthodoxy — discipleship to Christ.

What I mean is, it’s becoming more and more common for these folks who see nothing wrong with calling God “Mom” say that their faith is less about doctrinal truth claims and more about “following in the way of Jesus” (or whatever), but what they seem to miss (or ignore) is that “the way of Jesus” was to relate to God as Father. Yes, God is spirit and therefore without gender, but the Son of God exclusively referred to the first person of the Trinity as “Father.” And that is the way he taught his followers to relate to God (Matt. 6:9, etc.).

The progressive evangeliwhatchamacalits seem to think they can mess with the revelation of the nature of our relational God without messing with the revelation of the nature of his Son. But we find all our information about “the way of Christ” in the same Bible we find all our information about God our Father. To mess with God as Father, then, is also to mess with Jesus as Son. (Unless one wants to argue that the eternal Word of God, the second Person of the Trinity, is not God’s eternally begotten Son but only became “Son” when he incarnated male flesh.)

That God is genderless is besides the point, really. He has revealed his relational nature to us in the first case as Father and in the second as Son. That was his call, and it’s no more a suggestion than Jesus’ command to love our enemies. If you want to mess with the biblical revelation of God’s Fatherhood, then, you end up messing with the revelation of Jesus Christ himself, like “red letter Christians” with bottles of white-out. Might as well call Jesus “daughter,” I s’pose.

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”?
— Hebrews 1:5

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
— John 4:23

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How Salvation is Ultimately About God

Jul 31, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

Salvation is for us, of course — God doesn’t need it — but it’s not mainly about us. It is mainly about God. How so?

Turning to the deep well of Ephesians 2, we read:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Here we find three ways salvation is ultimately about God:

1. Its aim is our Christlikeness. See the contrast between the deader-than-deadness described in vv.1-3 as life apart from Christ and the new life described in vv.5-6. See also 2 Corinthians 3:18.

2. Its aim is our “in Christ”-ness through union with Christ. See v.6, as well as Galatians 2:20 and Colossians 3:3.

3. Its aim is to show off God’s glory. “Because of [his] great love.” “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace.” “This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” “For we are his workmanship.” So that we will not boast. But God may and will.

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New Release: The Wonder-Working God

Jul 31, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

Wonder-Working-GodMy latest book officially releases today from Crossway.

The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles is a companion volume of sorts to last February’s The Storytelling God (on the parables). This book covers most of Jesus’ most startling supernatural acts and teases out the myriad ways they help us see his satisfying magnificence coming to bear in the gospel of his kingdom.

Some kind words from others on the book:

“Christianity is supernatural. We read the Bible and see God doing things that can’t be explained rationally. That is the God we long for, One who can do extraordinary things in and around our ordinary lives. But Christianity is about God, not just what God does. I love this book, because Jared Wilson helps us worship the miracle worker, and not settle for just wanting and worshiping miracles.”
—Darrin Patrick, Lead Pastor, The Journey, St. Louis, Missouri; Vice President, Acts 29; Chaplain to the St. Louis Cardinals; author, The Dude’s Guide to Manhood

“Could it be that Jesus’s miracles were not the paranormal, but actually the true normal breaking into our world of paranormal sin corruption? Wilson gets to the biblical heart of why Jesus performed miracles—these harbingers of God’s mission to set right all that has gone so terribly wrong. Along the way, Wilson helps us hear what Jesus has to say to enlightened postmoderns, skeptics demanding apologetic proofs, and the paranormally fascinated. A soul-refreshing, gospel-drenched read.”
—Jon Bloom, President, Desiring God; author, Not by Sight and Things Not Seen

“Jesus walked on water and healed the sick. He turned water into wine and raised men from the dead. How often we skim over these familiar stories, but as Jared Wilson writes, ‘Miraculous events in the Bible are God putting an exclamation point where he normally puts a period.’ The Wonder-Working God teaches us that these miracles aren’t meant only to amaze us, they are to point us to Jesus Christ himself. I’m convinced I will never read about Jesus’s life the same way again. Read it and think deeply about it as you glimpse the glory of Jesus—our Savior.
—Trillia Newbell, author, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity

“Jared Wilson brings his characteristic wit and careful exegesis to the often-misunderstood passages on God’s miracles in a fresh and insightful way. The Wonder-Working God is a timely and necessary work for the church if we are going to better understand the workings of our great God in the present age.”
—Matt Carter, Pastor of Preaching, The Austin Stone Community Church, Austin, Texas; author, The Real Win

“Finally, a treatment of Jesus’s miracles that presents them more as a ‘preview of coming attractions’ and less as God’s attempt to convince skeptics of his existence—as though God has ever ‘attempted’ to do anything. As Jared shows us, Jesus’s miracles are more normal than we realize—an indicator of the way things used to be, before sin and death invaded God’s story, and a precursor of the way things will be one day, when Jesus returns to finish making all things new.”
—Scotty Smith, Teacher in Residence, West End Community Church, Nashville, Tennessee

“Into a world where naturalism is the prevailing philosophy, Jared Wilson casts a fresh vision for the wonder-working power of the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth. This biblically engaging, Christ-exalting, and never-boring book deserves your close and attentive reading.”
—Sam Storms, Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

“Jared Wilson’s crisp, potent, and winsome style portrays the Savior whose worth is magnified by his miraculous power. If you’re holding this book, my advice is: Buy → Read → Wonder → Worship!”
—Dave Harvey, Pastor of Preaching, Four Oaks Community Church, Tallahassee, Florida; author, When Sinners Say I Do and Am I Called?

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