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Why Then Must We Still Do Good?

Aug 14, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Good question.

It’s a question Catholics have often asked Protestants as they wax on about justification by faith alone. It’s a question I’ve had posed to me, in one way or another, by both Muslims and Mormons. It’s a question that even Gospel-centered Christians don’t always seem to agree on.

Thankfully, it’s also a question we find in the Heidelberg Catechism (Q/A 86).

According to the Catechism, there are at least five reasons we who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone must still do good.

1. Fruit. Good works are the fruit of which justification is the root. If we have the grace of God inside us we will have something of the grace showing through to the outside. “Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself.”

2. Gratitude. Good works show to God and to the world that we have much to be thankful for (Rom. 6:13; 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:5-10). When we are grateful, the nastiness of vice and pride is pushed aside. In its place we consider all that God has done for us and instinctively–and supernaturally–aim to please the one who has shown us such mercy.

3. Glory. Good works testify that God is worthy of our obedience and service (Matt. 5:16; 1 Cor. 6:19-20). He receives praise when people see his reflection in us. His majesty is magnified when others recognize that we consider him a God to be feared and a Father to be loved.

4. Assurance. Good works bear witness to our own hearts that we are children of God (Matt. 7:17-18; Gal. 5:22-24; 2 Pet. 1:10-11). As we spot good fruit growing in our lives, we should conclude that we, therefore, cannot be bad trees.

5. Conversion. Good works make our neighbors stand up and take notice (Matt. 5:14-16; Rom. 14:17-19; 1 Pet. 2:12; 3:1-2). Our behavior cannot, by itself, win sinners to Christ. But our good works can adorn the gospel and lead the lost to consider whether they are as found as they thought.

Good works are not optional for the Christian. We must do good, not as the means of our acceptance with God, but as an expression of it. In the lifelong pursuit of holiness, we would do well to consider all the biblical motivations for Christlikeness. For at one time or another, we will need them all. And so will the people God brings before us in need of similar transformation.

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Announced to All!

Aug 13, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

If I asked you to find one statement that made clear our responsibility to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth, where would you look?

You would probably open your Bibles to Matthew 28 or Acts 1. But what if I told you to find this kind of statement outside the Bible, where would you go then? You might find what I’m asking for in a John Piper book or in your church’s statement of faith, which is great. But what if I asked you to go back farther than that? What if I told you to find this statement—about our need to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth—in an old creed or confession or catechism? Depending on your background, this could be a very short search. Not because you know just where to find the statement I’m looking for, but because you aren’t familiar with creeds or confessions, other than the Apostles’ Creed, and that didn’t have it. And what if you were raised in a confessional tradition? That would help, but I still doubt you would find the statement I’m looking for. Because of all the places in all the Christian documents you could scour, you probably won’t think that a clear summons to worldwide gospel proclamation would be found in the Canons of Dort.

The Canons of Dort—if it’s known at all—often gets a bad rap. It’s considered by some to be too dogmatic, too scholastic, and too harsh. People outside of the Reformed camp don’t agree with its high view of divine sovereignty and especially its teaching that Christ died particularly for the elect. People within the Reformed camp often don’t read the points of doctrine carefully and sometimes aren’t comfortable with what they know (or think they know!) about them. And hardly anyone hears “Canons of Dort” and thinks, “Ah, yes, missions!” But it’s in there.

Second Head of Doctrine, Article 5

Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. The promise, together, with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation and discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

What a beautiful statement. And notice the carefulness of the language.

  • The promise we ought to announce is the good news of eternal life in Christ. And not just Christ but specifically “Christ crucified.”
  • This promise should be announced together with the command to repent and believe. It isn’t enough to make an open promise. We must make known the means of entering into this good news: faith and repentance.
  • This message should be announced to all nations and people. We must not differentiate or discriminate. Everyone needs to hear this saving gospel.
  • Ultimately, that anyone receives this good news and than anyone hears it in the first place, is a testimony to God’s grace. It is according to his good pleasure that the gospel goes forth.

The call to go and make disciples of all nations began more obviously with Jesus. But we are not the first to see it. Many before us have taken up the call. Many others have heard it and made it known. We can find this divine summons to proclaim the gospel among all peoples throughout the history of the church. Even in a few surprising places.

This post also appeared at Cross Conference blog.

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Monday Morning Humor

Aug 12, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

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Should You Look for a Job You’re Passionate About?

Aug 09, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Probably not, says one business writer. But if you stay long enough, you should be able to love the job you have

In an article for Inc.com, Jeff Haden maintains that too often we are told to “find work we are passionate about,” without stopping to consider if we have relevant passions. Haden–building on the insights of Cal Newport, Georgetown professor and author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Search for Work You Love–argues that most often our passions are better suited as hobbies, and hobbies aren’t generally the things will pay us to accomplish. So the typical advice “to follow your dreams” leads a lot of well-intentioned adventurers into one dead end after another.

Does this mean we are destined to muddle through life, hating what we do for a living? Not all. According to Haden and Newport, the best way to be passionate about what we do is to get really good at what we do.

Roughly speaking, work can be broken down into a job, a career, or a calling. A job pays the bills; a career is a path towards increasingly better work; a calling is work that is an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity. (Clearly most people want their work to be a calling.)

According to research, what is the strongest predictor of a person seeing her work as a calling?

The number of years spent on the job. The more experience you have the more likely you are to love your work.

Why? The more experience you have the better your skills and the greater your satisfaction in having those skills. The more experience you have the more you can see how your work has benefited others. And you’ve had more time to develop strong professional and even personal relationships with some of your employees, vendors, and customers.

Where business success is concerned, passion is almost always the result of time and effort. It’s not a prerequisite.

Obviously, some people are blessed to have a passion, get a job that fulfills that passion, and keep on enjoying that job for a long time (I count myself among those so blessed). But for most people, passion is something we grow into (and my passion for ministry has grown the longer I’ve been in it). Passion is, in large part, the product of positive feedback over time after longevity, hard work, and improvement. Which is why working right often trumps finding the right work.

Want to love what you do? Pick something interesting. Pick something financially viable–something people will pay you to do or provide.

Then work hard. Improve your skills, whether at managing, selling, creating, implementing–whatever skills your business requires. Use the satisfaction and fulfillment of small victories as motivation to keep working hard.

And as you build your company, stay focused on creating a business that will eventually provide you with a sense of respect, autonomy, and impact.

“Don’t focus on the value your work offers you,” Newport says. “That’s the passion mindset. Instead focus on the value you produce through your work: how your actions are important, how you’re good at what you do, and how you’re connected to other people.”

When you do, the passion will follow–and if you work hard enough, someday you’ll be so good they can’t ignore you.

Christians will want to round out this advice with biblical principles about working as unto the Lord and being God’s image bearers in the world. But as a general piece of sanctified common sense, the article is on to something. Try something, work hard, get better, make a contribution–you may just find that you’ve found your passion after all.

Thanks to Dan Lohrmann, Michigan’s Chief Security Officer and one of our elders, for passing along this article.

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Is the American Dream All Bad?

Aug 08, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

James K. A. Smith in his provocative post Families, Flourishing, and Upward Mobility:

It is certainly true that this [American] dream easily slides towards idolatry. It can become a nightmare of crass materialism and selfish ambition. But we shouldn’t confuse idolatrous perversions with more humble aspirations of families to simply enjoy a mode of economic security that is conducive with flourishing. Those who are passionate advocates of the poor are often, oddly, knee-jerk critics of the American dream and aspirations to be middle class. How odd. It reminds me of the lyrics of an Everclear song: “I hate those people who love to tell you / money is the root of all that kills. / They have never been poor, / they have never had the joy of a welfare Christmas.” The God who cares about the poor must also be a God who celebrates economic flourishing and stability as features of shalom. [Emphasis added]

Smith is no cheerleader for either political party, which is what makes his conclusion so striking: “In short, if our society wants to foster upward mobility and economic stability—the good features of the American dream—then we need to call into question the dogmas of secularist progressivism.” In other words, if we care about human flourishing, we must look to structures and institutions beyond the state. Marriage matters. Morals matter. And aspiring to be middle class is not so bad.

Read the whole article.

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When to Stay and When to Run

Aug 08, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

In Acts 14:2, we see Paul and Barnabas facing great opposition to their gospel ministry in Iconium. “So,” the next verse tells us, “they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord.” Opposition leads to endurance.

In Acts 14:5-6, we hear of a clandestine plot by Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to kill Paul and Barnabas. When they learn of this plan, the apostolic tandem flees to Lystra and Derbe. The threat of persecution leads to leaving.

So which is it: when opposition grows, do Christians stay or go?

This is one of the real difficult questions that Christians on the mission field and in hostile lands have faced throughout church history. To what lengths can we go—or should we go—to avoid persecution? Can we press charges or go to court or claim our rights? (Didn’t Paul claim his Roman citizenship?) When is it cowardly to go? Is it always the right thing to stay? Why did Paul and Barnabas stay for a long time in Iconium in verse 3 but then flee to Lystra and Derbe in verse 6?

There is no simple answer to the question, and no obvious solution to the dangerous predicaments in which Christians find themselves. But John Calvin points us in the right direction.

And though they fly, lest they throw themselves headlong into death, yet their constancy in preaching the gospel does sufficiently declare that they feared not danger. For Luke says that they preached the gospel in other places also. This is the right kind of fear, when the servants of Christ do not run willfully into the hands of their enemies, of them to be murdered, and yet they do not abandon their duty; neither does fear hinder them from obeying God when he calls; and so, consequently, they can afford, if need be, to go even through death itself to do their duty. (Commentary on Acts of the Apostles)

In other words, we ought to pursue the course of action we think will best serve the cause of the gospel.

Of course, this biblical principle will not make all our decisions easy ones. It can be hard to discern when the cause of the gospel is best advance by living to preach another day and when, like Stephen, we might be called to give our finest sermon in the face of certain death. But it seems that Paul and Barnabas may have reasoned something like this: “If we have people who hate us, fine. If folks are getting agitated and stirred up, so be it. All the more reason to stay-this place needs the word of God. But to die by a secret plot here in Iconium doesn’t seem best for the mission God has given us. We have been here awhile; we have other cities to see. Let’s keep preaching the gospel elsewhere, and maybe we can come back later when things have cooled down.” They made their decisions not in aversion to risk, but in an effort to fulfill their duties.

As you think about hardships you may face as a Christian—in your school, in your business, in your neighborhood, in your country, on the field—you have to ask yourself and pray through this question: “How can I best serve the cause of the gospel?” Sometimes it is by moving on to the next thing. Often it is by staying in your hard situation.

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Gospel-Centered Schism

Aug 07, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Division in the gospel is tragic and an affront to Christ. Division because of the gospel is expected. When Paul and Barnabas preached “the word of his grace” in Iconium, the people of the city “were divided” (Gk: schizo). God’s truth is often controversial, and schism on account of the truth is often unavoidable.

Calvin’s words are wise:

So soon as any schism arises, before we condemn those who seem to be the authors, it behooves us wisely to consider who ought to bear the blame. We hear here that one city was divided, whereby some were brought unto Christ. The Spirit of God pronounces this to the praise, and not to the shame, of Paul and Barnabas.

The same rule must we observe at this day, lest the gospel be burdened with false envy, if it bring not men together unto God, but the wicked rage against it. It is assuredly a miserable matter to see division among men. But as the unity is accursed which does separate us all from God, so it were better that a few should depart a hundred times from all the whole world, and, in the mean season, come in favor again with God, than that disagreeing with him continually, they should have peace with the world. (Commentary on The Acts of the Apostles)

Sometimes centering on the gospel does not bring people together. Of course, this is no excuse for anger, bitterness, or obnoxiousness in presenting the gospel. But all things considered, it is certainly safer to have enemies in this life than to have God as your enemy in the next.

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Ruthlessness Accompanied by Unctuous Moralizing

Aug 06, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s always right to confess sin, right?

When God pricks our consciences and brings us to the point where we can see our sin, hate our sin, confess our sin, and turn from our sin and turn to Christ, it is one of the surest signs of the work of the Holy Spirit.

But not all confession is created equal. Confessing faults we don’t really see, just to get people off our backs, is duplicitous. Confessing sins that aren’t really sins is the sign of a conscience gone awry. And confessing the mistakes and moral blindness of others usually amounts to tendentious manipulation. It may be from the best of intentions (or it may not), but it is a dangerous thing to loudly confess a host of sins we have not committed and for which we are not individually, or even corporately, responsible.

In 1940, C.S. Lewis penned a striking article for The Guardian entitled “Dangers of National Repentance.”  His basic point: we should be exceedingly careful when apologizing for something we disdain in someone else.  Some solidarity with your nation or your tribe (to use a word Lewis didn’t) can be a good thing, but it can also easily turn into the sin of pride where we “confess” all the stupid things our benighted forefathers weren’t smart enough to avoid and all contemporary crimes our fellow citizens and colleagues are not enlightened enough to denounce. “The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting of our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing—but, first, of denouncing—the conduct of others” (in God in the Dock, 190).

More recently, physician and essayist Theodore Dalrymple has labeled this phenomenon the “False Apology Syndrome.”  The syndrome is dangerous because it allows us to feel good without having to be good.  We get all of the moral high ground that comes with confession and none of the personal pain.  “The habit of public apology for things for which one bears no personal responsibility changes the whole concept of a virtuous person, from one who exercises the discipline of virtue to one who expresses correct sentiment.  The most virtuous person of all is he who expresses it loudest and to most people.  The end result is likely to be self-satisfaction and ruthlessness accompanied by unctuous moralizing, rather than a determination to behave well.” We get to feel grandiose for “our” guilt without the burden of having to change or the shame of having people see our actual faults. What could be more satisfying and more ingratiating than saying we are sorry for other people’s sins?

A Sorry Bunch of Christians

It would be no sign of guts for me to get my fellow conservative evangelicals to make a statement confessing the sins of American sins like divorce, abortion, or Hollywood decadence. If we want to oppose those things or even denounce them, so be it. But that’s different than saying we are sorry for them. Likewise, it would be little more than thinly veiled censoriousness for me to preach a series of sermons apologizing for wicked popes and the prosperity gospel. Even a message saying I’m sorry for the execution of Servetus would properly seem to most people like a cheap homiletical trick. There is little humility, and even less courage, in apologizing for sins we haven’t committed and sins that everyone around us already rejects.

Now, if at one time I had championed these things, or had a key role in a body with direct responsibility for the sins in question, that would be different. Corporate repentance can be appropriate, even noble at times, but that depends on what such a confession costs us. “When a man over forty tries to repent the sins of England and to love her enemies,” writes Lewis, “he is attempting something costly; for he was brought up to certain patriotic sentiments which cannot be mortified without a struggle.  But an education man who is not in his twenties usually has no such sentiment to mortify. In art, in literature, in politics, he has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry and restless minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother’s milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasm of his less-education fellow countrymen” (190).

Many in the church face the same danger as these young Englishmen. In confessing the sins of the church—for the Crusades and witch trials of the past or for the faults we see in our fellow Christians of the present—the danger is we have everything to gain with these remonstrations and nothing to mortify. We would do well to listen to Lewis from seven decades ago: “The communal sins which they should be told to repent are those of their own age and class—its contempt for the uneducated, its readiness to suspect evil, its self-righteous provocations of public obloquy, its breaches of the Fifth Commandment.  Of these sins I have heard nothing among them.  Till I do, I must think their candour towards the national enemy a rather inexpensive virtue” (191).

Costly Contrition

Much of today’s apologizing is dangerously cheap, more manipulation that contrition, more of a clearing the throat than an actual pricked conscience.  It’s all too easy for me to say “I’m sorry for all manner of obvious and heinous sins.” But is it real repentance if I don’t go out and do something differently after my confession? If half of the things some people apologize for were their actual sins, they should be disqualified from any kind of Christian ministry. But before we loudly protest all our general failings, we would do well to remember that repentance entails a change of direction and not merely a public declaration that “I abhor these sins where they exist and have existed.” We shouldn’t say we’re sorry because it sounds good or makes us look good before others, but because we personally feel regret for some wrongdoing on our part and are intent on living more like Christ in the future.

Saying “sorry” for the church’s sins, if it must be done, should only be done with great heartache and a genuine sense of shame for our part in them. The office of communal repentance, says Lewis, “can be profitably discharged only by those who discharge it with reluctance.” A son rebuking his mother may be necessary and even edifying, “but only if we are quite sure that he has been a good son and that, in his rebuke, spiritual zeal is triumphing, not without agony, over strong natural affection. The moment there is reason to suspect that he enjoys rebuking her—that he believes himself to be rising above the natural level while he is still, in reality, groveling below it in the unnatural—the spectacle becomes merely disgusting. The hard sayings of our Lord are wholesome to those only who find them hard” (191).  In other words, it’s a pretty good test of the appropriateness of our repentance to consider where our confession is costly to us, or rather, aims to be costly to someone else.

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Monday Morning Humor

Aug 05, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

There’s just something about mascots doing funky things that is very amusing. Watch for a crazy number of back flips at the end.

HT: 22 Words

And speaking of mascots, here’s my favorite mascot commercial:

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Sunday’s Coming and God is Sovereign

Aug 03, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

John Newton in a letter to Rev. Thomas Jones (October 20, 1767): “As to myself, if I were not a Calvinist, I think I should have no more hope of success in preaching to men, than to horses or cows.”

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