This is Christianity

Jun 20, 2014 | Ray Ortlund



“You may feel and say, as many do, ‘I was converted and became a Christian.  I’ve grown.  I’ve grown in knowledge, I’ve been reading books, I’ve been listening to sermons.  But I’ve arrived now at a sort of peak, and all I do is maintain that.  For the rest of my life I will just go on like this.’

My friend, you must get rid of that attitude; you must get rid of it once and forever.  That is religion.  It is not Christianity.  This is Christianity: the Lord appears!  Suddenly, in the midst of the drudgery and the routine and the sameness and the dullness and the drabness, unexpectedly, surprisingly, he meets with you, and he says something to you that changes the whole of your life and your outlook and lifts you to a level that you had never conceived was possible for you. . . . There is always this glorious possibility of meeting with him in a new and a dynamic way.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Living Water: Studies in John 4 (Wheaton, 2009), page 14.

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Stories of my dad

Jun 14, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


God gave me a great dad.  He was the finest man I’ve ever known — and the best pastor, and the best preacher, by far.  I drew strength from his love for me.  I miss him today.  I miss him every day.

Here are some reasons why I honor him.  And these are just for starters.

Dad came to all my high school football games, and even to some practices.  My friends noticed.  I noticed.  I knew I mattered to him.  I wasn’t a “priority” in his schedule.  I was his son.  He liked watching me play football.  I liked him watching me play football.  We enjoyed it together.

He set me free to pursue God’s call on my life.  He guided me in appropriate ways, but he did not fearfully cling to me or hope I would always live nearby.  Just the opposite.  He urged me to follow Christ anywhere.  Now and then he’d make this speech: “I don’t care if you’re a ditch-digger, as long as you love the Lord with all your heart.”  He was not at all impressed with worldly success and going to the right schools and all that pretense and bluff.  He wanted something better for me, something I had to find on my own.  But I never doubted now urgently he desired it for me.  And I did find it, partly because my dad didn’t intrude himself into it but cheered me on as I figured things out for myself.

I remember going downstairs early one morning and walking in on my dad in the living room.  There he was, on his knees, his face buried in his hands, absorbed in silent prayer.  He didn’t know anyone else was up.  So it wasn’t for show.  It was real.  My dad had a real walk with God.  It never occurred to me, not once, to wonder what mattered most to my dad.  It never occurred to me to wonder if Jesus was the Lord of his heart and of our home.  Dad revered the Bible.  He loved the gospel.  He served the church.  He witnessed to our neighbors.  He tithed when he couldn’t afford it.  He set the tone of our home, and our home was a place of joy, honesty and comfort.  Jesus was there.

One day when I was 11 or 12, while we were doing yard work out front — I can’t remember the context — but my dad stopped, looked me in the eyes and said, “You know, Bud, before time began, God chose you.”  I was floored.  Almighty God thought of tiny me?  Way back then?  I felt so loved by God.  Years later, when I became aware of the doctrine of election as such, I had no problem with it.  I loved it.  My dad had begun my theological education in my boyhood in the course of everyday conversation.

My mom told me once that dad had a practice as he came home at the end of each day.  He worked hard throughout the day.  He came home tired.  His blood sugar was low.  So as he walked up the back steps, before he reached out to open the back door, he would lift a simple prayer to God, “Lord, I need some extra energy right now.”  And God answered those prayers.  I never saw my dad walk in with no positive emotion to give.  Instead, he’d walk over to my mom, kiss her with a borderline embarrassing big kiss, and then he’d turn to me and say, “Come on, Skip, let’s wrestle!”  And we’d go out to the front room and wrestle on the floor and tickle and laugh and have a blast.

The Lord put his hand on my dad’s ministry.  Sure, he went through hard times.  He was accused of ridiculous things by crazy people.  But he trusted God and kept going.  And the Lord owned his ministry with obvious manifestations of divine favor.  There were even times when dad was unable to finish his sermon there at Lake Avenue Church, because the Holy Spirit was so moving on the people that they were going into prayer and repentance.  It was never forced or fake.  It was the Lord, adding his unusual blessing to the ministry of “a vessel for honorable use.”

I honor my dad today, with thanks to God.

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By God’s grace, not by our worth

Jun 11, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“Our assurance, our glory, and the sole anchor of our salvation are that Christ the Son of God is ours, and we in turn are in him sons of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven, called to the hope of eternal blessedness by God’s grace, not by our worth [Dei benignitate, non nostra dignitate].”

John Calvin, The Institutes, 3.17.1

HT:  Steve Fisher

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Union with Christ changes everything

Jun 09, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

05. Blair-Leighton, Edmund - Signing The Register

“Faith . . . unites the soul with Christ, as a bride is united with her bridegroom.  From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body, so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse.  This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul, and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ.  Thus Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul.  The soul possesses lots of vices and sin; these now belong to Christ. . . . Now is not this a happy business?  Christ, the rich, noble and holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil and bestows all his goodness upon her!  It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ.”

Martin Luther, quoted in Alister E. McGrath, Christian Spirituality: An Introduction (Oxford, 1999), pages 158-159.

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More systematic than the Bible?

Jun 07, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“I have long come to the conclusion that men may be more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system.”

J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, on John 3:16, noting that some scholars, with a misplaced jealousy for the doctrine of election, were resisting the plain force of “For God so loved the world.”  I believe Ryle was wise to let the Bible itself, not our man-made theological systems, have the final say.

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What the cross says

Jun 05, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“To whom does the invitation of this cross come?  It comes to the failures, the people who know they have gone wrong, the people who are filled with a sense of shame, the people who are weary and tired and forlorn in the struggle. . . .

Do you despise yourself, kick yourself metaphorically, and feel you are no good?  Weary, forlorn, tired, and on top of it all, sad and miserable?  Nothing can comfort you.  The pleasures of the world mock you.  They do not give you anything.  Life has disappointed you, and you are sad, miserable and unhappy, and on top if it all, you have a sense of guilt within you.  Your conscience nags at you, condemns, raises up your past and puts it before you, and you know that you are unworthy, you know that you are a failure, you know that there is no excuse, you are guilty. . . .

And then on top of all this, you are filled with a sense of fear.  You are afraid of life, you are afraid of yourself and your own weakness, you are afraid of tomorrow.  You are afraid of death, you know it is coming and you can do nothing about it, but you are afraid of it. . . .

This is the amazing thing about the cross.  It comes to such a person, and it is to such a person above all others that it brings its gracious and its glorious invitation.   What does it say to you? . . . You are not far off, and the cross speaks to you with sympathy.  That man dying on that cross was known as the friend of sinners.  He was reviled by the good and the religious because he sat down and ate and drank with sinners.  He had sympathy. . . .

Not only that, he will tell you that he is ready to accept you.  The world picks up its skirt and passes by.  It leaves you alone, it does not want to associate with you, you have gone down, you belong to the gutters, and the world is too respectable to have any interest in you.  Here is one who is ready to receive you and to accept you. . . . Sit down, he says.  Wait, stop, give up your activities.  Just as you are, I am ready to receive you.  In your rags, in your filth, in your vileness.  Rest.

What else?  Pardon.  The cross speaks of benediction, of pardon, joy and peace with God.  It tells you that God is ready to forgive you.  It says, listen to me, your sin has been punished.  I am here because this is the punishment of sin.  Listen to me, says the blood of sprinkling.  I have been shed that you might be forgiven, pardoned, at peace with God.  Oh, thank God, there is also cleansing here.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Cross (Wheaton, 1986), pages 168-170.

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The lack of the times

Jun 04, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“We must confess that just now we have not the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we could wish.  Many are being converted.  I hope that few of us are laboring unsuccessfully; but we are none of us laboring as our hearts could desire.  Oh, that I could feel the Spirit of God in me, till I was filled to the brim . . . . We seek not for extraordinary excitements, those spurious attendants of genuine revivals, but we do seek for the pouring-out of the Spirit of God.  There is a secret operation which we do not understand; it is like the wind, we know not whence it cometh nor whither it goeth; yet, though we understand it not, we can and do perceive its divine effect.  It is this breath of Heaven which we want.  The Spirit is blowing upon our churches now with his genial breath, but it is as a soft evening gale.  Oh, that there would come a mighty rushing wind that should carry everything before it, so that even the dry bones of the Valley of Vision might be filled with life and be made to stand up before the Lord, an exceeding great army.  This is the lack of the times, the grand want of our country.  May this come as a blessing from the Most High.”

C. H. Spurgeon, in Lectures Delivered Before The Young Men’s Christian Association in Exeter Hall From November 1858 to February 1859 (London, 1859), pages 168-169.

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Help The Axis Church

Jun 03, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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Not primarily ethics

Jun 03, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

The Christian life is not primarily a matter of ethics.  Primarily, it is a matter of faith.  Abraham trusted God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.  As Kierkegaard points out in The Sickness Unto Death, “The opposite of sin is not virtue but faith.  Whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23).”

Ethics we can manage on our own.  We can even observe biblical ethics to keep God at a safe distance.  But if our hearts are believing the promises of God, we cannot say no to him.  We yield to him.  We suffer dislocation in this world for his sake.  We feel the ground shifting under our feet and we don’t panic.  Nothing seems stable, but we accept that.  We surrender to God.  Drawn on toward his promises, we soften, our hearts crack open, we start changing.

The most urgent question in our lives today is not moral versus immoral but true versus false, heavenly versus earthly, divine promise versus human pride, trust versus possession.

Good news for sinners who don’t mind handing everything over to God.

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Legalism devalues Christ and torments us

Jun 02, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


If you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  Galatians 5:2

“Paul does not say that works of themselves are nothing, but that confidence and righteousness in them are nothing, for that would make Christ of no value. . . .

Let us bear this in mind when the devil accuses and frightens our conscience, attempting to drive us to despair.  He is the father of lying and the enemy of Christian freedom; he torments us every moment with false fears, so that when our conscience has lost this Christian freedom, it will feel remorse for sin and condemnation and always remain in anguish and terror.  When that great dragon — that old snake, the devil — comes and tells you that not only have you done no good, but you have also transgressed God’s law, say to him, ‘You are troubling me with the memory of my past sins; you are also reminding me that I have done no good.  But this is nothing to me, for if I either trusted in my own good deeds or feared because I have done no such deeds, Christ would in either case be of no value to me at all.  I rest only in the freedom Christ has given me.  I know he is of value to me, and so I will not make him of no value, which I would be doing if I either presumed to purchase favor and everlasting life for myself by my good deeds or despaired of my salvation because of my sins.’”

Martin Luther, Galatians (Wheaton, 1998), pages 245-246.

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