Confronting the Me Monster

I’m currently doing a Bible study with some other members of our church based around Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges. Here’s the description:

“As Christians, we believe that all sins are considered equal in God’s eyes. Yet while evangelicals continue to decry the Big Ones–such as abortion, adultery, and violence–we often overlook more deceptive sins. It seems we have created a sliding scale where gossip, jealousy, and selfishness comfortably exist within the church. In short, some sins have simply become acceptable.”

Sins like anger, envy, jealousy. It’s been an interesting read, and I find myself discovering more about putting sin to death in my life.

The last chapters we covered dealt with pride and selfishness. Bridges says, “We are born with a selfish nature…Even after we become Christians, we still have the flesh that wars against the Sprit, and one of its expressions is selfishness.”

It’s easy to say to yourself that you’re not selfish and prideful, or at least not as selfish or prideful as others…and then as soon as you think that, you realized you are guilty of being selfish and prideful.

We’re called to love others, but it’s hard to do that when we’re focused on yourself. You want to be the center of attention. Even if we’re not fully expressing it, our hearts can be just like this guy…

Romans 12:3 says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

I forgot where I heard it, but I heard an analogy that stuck with me to this day and I wanted to share it with you. Pretend your life is a movie. People go wrong when they assume they are the star of the movie, that they are the main character, turning to God only when they need help… sort of like if you were Cinderella and God was the Fairy Godmother.

Here’s the right way to think about this. If life is a movie, Jesus is the star. Everything in the movie relates to God’s glory. We just get the amazing opportunity to be extras in this spectacular production.

How many times have you heard the story of David and Goliath? Question: In this Bible passage, who represents you? Are you David, overcoming giants with God’s help? Are you Goliath, causing trouble?

Check out this short cartoon by Adam4d for what I think is a great view on this classic Bible passage.

Pride and selfishness is something we have to deal with every day. Thankfully, God helps us fight that battle. And remember, the war has already been won!

Want to talk to your preteens about pride and selfishness? Luke 14:7-14 is a great place to start. Discuss Jesus’ advice and if they have seen something like this in their life. You can have your kids try to draw out comics, write a poem, or come up with a short play that represent Proverbs 29:22-23 or 1 Peter 5:5. Make sure you join in as well!

Holy and Glory

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

During our Bible and Music (BAM!) Wednesday night services for the kids, we’ve been covering the book of Genesis with a focus what it means to be holy. Your kids are discovering that holy means being distinct or set apart. God is holy because only he is perfect.

Our memory verse for the series is Leviticus 19:2, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

Last Sunday, Pastor Oren started a series on assurance and salvation. Pastor reminds us of this truth: God is for the glory of his name…the glory of God is the goal in salvation. If you missed the sermon, I encourage you to watch it here.

So on one end we have the holiness of God and on the other end we have the glory of God. Where do the two meet?

In his sermon, What is God’s Glory, John Piper tries to do the impossible task of defining the glory of God in some way that we may comprehend using God’s holiness. First, take a look at Isaiah 6:3, “And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

“…the glory of God is the manifest beauty of his holiness. It is the going public of his holiness. It is the way he puts his holiness on display for people to apprehend. So the glory of God is the holiness of God made manifest,” says Piper. “Listen to this word from Leviticus 10:3. God says: I will be shown to be holy among those who are near me and before all the people I will be glorified. I will be shown to be holy. And among all the people, say it another way, I will be glorified. So to see, to apprehend and to reckon with his holiness and in some sense perceive it is to see glory and, thus, to glorify him.”

How does this all tie in together? I think Clint Nauta (our BAM time leader, among many other things) summed it up beautifully in three sentences:

God requires holiness (Leviticus 19:2)…this is glorious.

We are not holy (Romans 3:23)…this is terrifying.

Jesus is our holiness (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)…this is liberating.

Our kids’ memory verse, Leviticus 19:2,  is referenced later in the Bible, in 1 Peter 1:13-16, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Peter is talking to believers, those who follow Jesus. This was a call for God’s people to be set apart from sin to serve God. Jesus is our holiness, and as such, we are set apart from sin to serve God for his glory (Matthew 5:16).

A question for you today. Read 1 Peter 4:10-11 and 1 Corinthians 10:31. What spiritual gifts or God-given talents do you have that you can honor God by using?

In the end, God gets all the glory. In our salvation and what we do afterwards…or even if we choose not to follow Jesus. No matter what, our holy God will get the glory.

Our Future Hope

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5

This morning Oren, Jason, and I were able to attend the Baton Rouge Downtown Development District meeting, which is focused on sharing the news of upcoming developments in downtown life. There were reports of new construction, of old buildings being renovated, of upcoming events and concerts, etc. But one of the most exciting things discussed at the meeting was the development of a “greenway,” a designated walking and bike path with green space and plant life around it. Along with the greenway—which was just completed through Expressway Park and is in the works for East and North Boulevards—other playground and basketball court improvements were officially opened at a ribbon cutting ceremony in Expressway Park this morning. All in all, the DDD and BREC members who were presenting this morning were excited to talk about the future of Baton Rouge’s space in and around downtown.

In the air there was genuine excitement over the future of city developments and parks and business and restaurants and restored buildings and—ultimately—life around downtown. There was a sense of hopefulness, an air of “things haven’t always been great, but we’re going to make them better, one step at a time.” And as a resident of Baton Rouge and an employed member of the downtown workforce, I think it’s absolutely wonderful. I found myself caught up in the excitement and the hope of it all.

While walking to the Ribbon cutting, Bro. Oren saw a sign for something called “Genesis 360,” and made a comment about Genesis 3 and the Garden of Eden. It was half joke and half commentary, but his comment was basically, “Ever since the angel came and guarded the entrance to the Garden in Genesis 3, we’ve been trying to rebuild and recreate that perfect place.” It was a nice quip in light of the morning’s events, but it resonated with me. Isn’t that what we do as humans? Aren’t we so quick to latch on to hope, to imagine how great things could possibly be, to dream of a future as perfect as our collective past in the Garden?

I think it stuck out to me so much because in the end, we do have a hope. We have a hope greater than any new business or new park or new green space could ever bring. As Peter says here in 1 Peter 1, we have a “new birth into a living hope.” Our inheritance, our future place with Christ, can never perish. It’s not in danger, it can’t spoil or fade. One of the reasons there’s so much excitement about new development in Baton Rouge is because the future of our city is not permanent. We can work to make it better, yes, but if we don’t it could just as easily fall apart. Just as easily as we can rejoice in development and life our dreams can turn to disrepair and death.  But as Christians, our hope is 100% secure. How much more should we celebrate then! How much more should we revel in this hope, in this security! Like Peter says, praise be to God for this hope!

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Act of Approach – Leaning

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O God Above,

Occupy the throne of my heart,

Take full possession and reign supreme

Put down every rebel lust of my heart

Let no wicked passion deny your Spirit’s presence

Show your power in me through this day, and every day

And remind me that I am yours forever and ever.

You are worthy to be

praised with my every breath

loved with all my ability

served with every act of my life

You have loved me, rescued me, welcomed me

Purchased, washed clean, shown favor, and clothed me in your grace

I was still dirty with sin and spoiled by fleshly corruption

I was dead in my transgressions against you

Without eyes to see you

Nor ears to hear you

Nor understanding to know you

Yet by your Holy Spirit you made me new,

You brought me into a new world as a new creature

With spiritual understanding

And you have opened me to your Word

My Light

My Guide

My Refuge

My Joy

Your presence is to me a treasure of unending peace;

Nothing in this world can separate me from your compassionate grace

For you have drawn me close to you with unconditional love

And you keep me in that love hour by hour, every single day.

Help me O God to walk in a manner worthy of your love

Whether in my hopes, dreams, and daily occupation

Keep me close to you, because I cannot remain close by my own power

Protect me from evil and the Evil One

Let me set aside the sins that others praise as good

Help me to walk with you, leaning on your arm for strength

In the fellowship of spirit and truth

May you make me the salt of the earth and the light of Christ in the darkness

That I may honor you by being a blessing to others.

 

Adapted from  The Valley of Vision, p.84-85

30 Great Secret Church Tweets

Friday night FBCBR was a host site for Secret Church 2015. It was an incredible night full of some great teaching and powerful prayer time. Dr. David Platt led the time, with this year’s theme being “Christ, culture, and a call to action.”

Over 50,000 people around the nation took part in the 6+ hour event that stretched past midnight. Part of what makes Secret Church so cool is that most everyone is experiencing the event and praying at the same time. This is especially cool when you go on social media and connect with others participating and see what parts touched their hearts the most.

In case you couldn’t make it, or in case you were too busy filling in the blanks on the study guide to go online, here are some tweets that I retweeted and favored during the event.

Of course, you can’t have a late night event without going a little silly! Here are some of the funny tweets!

Maybe we’ll see you next year!

Jesus is alive! Now What?

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Longtime pastor of FBC Baton Rouge, Dr. J. Norris Palmer once preached a sermon on Easter Sunday entitled “The Resurrection Obligation”, in which he proclaimed from God’s Word that as those who have been raised with Christ Jesus (Colossians 3:1), Christian believers now have a “fixed and definite” obligation to live as Christ has called us. This particular passage in Colossians is a non-traditional Easter scripture, and the message itself isn’t exactly one which many people get excited about. We love to hear about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us; but we are not so keen on hearing what he expects of his people.

Yet that is exactly what the resurrection of Christ calls for: a serious and deep heart-searching evaluation of our priorities and affections, focused on how we live in light of the reality that Jesus is the living and reigning King of Kings. Colossians 3:1-4 calls every believer in the risen Christ to set our minds on things above, because our lives are already hidden with Christ in God forever and ever. We have nothing to lose by living for God’s glory in obedience to Jesus Christ because we already have what he has promised – eternal life.

The resurrection of Jesus should affect every part of your life. Why? Well, if Jesus was telling us the truth when he said he would be crucified and raised from the dead (Matt. 16:21, 20:18, Mark 10:34, Luke 9:22) then everything else he said has to be true as well. How outlandish and ridiculous is it that a man can predict that he will be raised from the dead? No one does that because no one is capable of doing that. But, Jesus not only said it would happen, but he proved it did happen when he walked out of the tomb that bright Easter morning. So, if his most “unbelievable” miracle actually occurred in the exact way he described, then every other commandment, rebuke, warning, and prophecy must be true as well. What this means for those who believe in the resurrection is that we must pay close attention to what Jesus said about those who are his true followers.

While you may not deny the resurrection, and in fact you may rejoice in it, the reality quickly sets in that we can easily drift from this joyous good news into apathy, complacency, and unawareness of the living Christ. This has a deep and corrupting effect on our hearts because part of being raised with Christ is the challenge to accept the change of heart that comes with faith in Jesus. To be a new creature in Christ means to be a NEW KIND OF PERSON– the old person has to be dead because he died with Christ on the cross (Galatians 2:20). To set our minds on the things that are above is only possible for those whose minds are transformed by the power of God and his gospel (Romans 12:1). You MUST change because that is God’s design for your new life in Christ. Keep in mind that this change is glorious. We cannot lose sight of or ignore this great reality for all Christians: God is making us more and more like his Son Jesus, which is why he saved you and will one day glorify you (Romans 8:29-30). We cannot live any longer HOWEVER we want; we are now set apart for live for God’s glory and now our own. Pastor Kevin DeYoung says it this way:

When you first got interested in Christianity it was new and exciting. It gave purpose and order to your life. You liked the fellowship and the people. But then you found out how you were supposed to change. You learned that God, because he loves you, didn’t want you to have to be a sexaholic, a workaholic, an alcoholic. You realized that following Jesus meant you couldn’t live any which you pleased. You belonged to God, and the God of the Bible is not an anything goes kind of God.

When we do not acknowledge the risen Christ in the monotony of every-day life we sell short our experience as those who have been “raised with Christ.” While the truth of the gospel, culminating in the resurrection, is what brought us to faith in Jesus to begin with, it is also what sustains us each and every day. So when the apostle Paul tells us to set our mind on things above, that includes setting our minds on the One who is seated above, at the right hand of God the Father, interceding for us and fighting for our joy in this life. You don’t HAVE TO LIVE IN SIN, because Jesus defeated its power over you (Rom. 6:6).

This was Paul’s warning to the Colossians: “Hey Christians, temptation is all around you! Set your mind on things above, NOT on the things of this earth.” This does not mean that we do not think about what’s for dinner, or how to get all the laundry done, or how do I discipline my children, or what kind of job am I to pursue, or who to vote for, or where to go on vacation, or which tie to wear on Sunday morning, etc. All of this ordinary stuff is actually within the framework of living new lives in Christ. How can we live in this world while doing all the stuff we MUST do each day just to survive? The answer: Set your mind on things above. There are a couple of practical, “everyday ways” to do this:

  • Think about Jesus. Just stop for a moment and think about all you know about Christ. His holiness, his perfection, his unconditional love and mercy, his abundant grace, his patience, and his expectations for his followers. This is where we can all find common ground to set our minds on things that are above.
  • Read the Bible! This sounds so easy and cliché’, but it is the primary way in which we “hear” from God. Do you want to hear God speak to you? Read your bible. And study your bible. To set your mind on things above means to fill your mind with truths of God. So read Colossians 3:5-17, Philippians 4:4-11, Galatians 5:16-26, John 14, and 1 Corinthians 2. Read ALL of the Psalms and Proverbs. Read the Word and set your mind on what you are reading.

May God bless you and sustain you by His Spirit as you read and believe His Word and trust more in the risen Jesus Christ. He is alive and he is working in you for the glory of His name and for your eternal joy.

In My Place He Stood Condemned

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He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will. – Luke 23:25

Since that dark day when the Lord and Master of all life (Colossians 1:15-19), Jesus Christ, was crucified on a Roman cross, we’ve tried to subtly pass the blame for the death of Jesus onto the whole of humanity rather than on ourselves. I know that may sound strange, but the reality is that we don’t allow ourselves to linger on the thought of Jesus suffering and dying a brutal and excruciating death FOR ME and BECAUSE OF ME. It’s much more bearable to think about Jesus dying for “people”, or for sinners (in which we include ourselves). But to stop for a significant amount of time and consider the depth of what Jesus endured; he was mocked, beaten, scourged, and crucified all for ME, it is almost too much to bear.

When I say “me”, I’m talking about the real person that I know the best; the person that I see in the mirror and who knows he has sins deeply rooted in his heart and who spends a great deal of time trying to cover it up and hide it behind religious behaviors and a nice smile. It is because of me and it is for me that Jesus died. While the death of Christ Jesus purchased my pardon and set me free to know God and to love God, I shudder to think that it was because of my sins that Jesus was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). When I hear the words “Jesus died for sinners”, I say to that “Yes” and “Amen”, because it is true and because I find such deep and abiding joy in those words. But there are times when hearing the words “For he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”, I grow hauntingly quiet. It is a somber, convicting, and piercing truth (2 Corinthians 5:21). God made Jesus to suffer for me and because of me so that I could know life in him. This is the message that transforms lives and the message we boldly proclaim.

As we enter the month of April, I was reading through the passion narratives that document the events of Jesus final hours, this verse in Luke 23:25 jumped off of the page at me. I’ve known for most of my life that Jesus was crucified and Barabbas the criminal was let go by Pilate. By Pilate’s authority and by the urging of the Jews, the man who had been convicted and sentenced to prison and death for insurrection and murder was released by Pilate. And in the place of the murderous rebel, Jesus Christ stood condemned and was sent to Calvary to die.

This “trade” that the Jewish leaders made with Pilate was not an isolated event outside of the sovereign will of God (Isaiah 53:10). Nor is it unconnected to the impact of the crucifixion on my own life. See, Jesus took the place of a condemned man. One who was obviously guilty and deserving of death according to law was pardoned (or set free!) while the blameless and perfect Son of God was sentenced to die. My propensity to pass the blame for Jesus’ death onto all of humanity comes quickly to an end when I realize that I am Barabbas. No, I have not been convicted or even accused of murder and insurrection according to our civil laws; but according to the law of God, I am a murderer and an insolent rebel against God’s moral law of perfection (1 Timothy 1:13-15). I have transgressed against his holiness too many times to count, and I am deserving of the most terrible kind of death.

But God saw fit according to his perfect and sovereign will to make provision for my sin wrecked soul. Instead of giving me over to eternal death, he extended mercy to me and gave me life (1 Timothy 1:15-16, Ephesians 2:4-5). This life comes by the death of his perfect Son Jesus. I was guilty and Jesus was innocent, but Jesus was crucified as a guilty criminal (Isaiah 53:3). I was to blame for my wretched sin and Jesus was completely blameless, but Jesus died taking my blame upon himself. I was a murderer who harbored hatred in his heart (Matthew 5:21-22), but Jesus was hated in my place (John 15:25).  I was on the path of death, but Jesus died in my place, for me and because of me, so that I could be set free to know life abundantly. Just like Barabbas, Jesus was delivered over to be crucified and I was set free.

This Easter, would you consider the cross deeply? Will you spend significant amount of time thinking on what Jesus did for you by dying in your place and absorbing the wrath of God that you greatly deserved? Would you just stop for a few moments and ponder the depth of God’s grace and mercy to save your soul? I pray that your worship, prayers, and fellowship with believers will be greatly encouraged as you think deeply on the implications of what Jesus has done to give you life eternal. We will be celebrating on Easter Sunday the glorious and miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord, Master, and King of all creation. But to get to the empty tomb, we must first go to the cross. You and I are sinners in need of a savior. But praise be to God for he has given us the mightiest of saviors (Philippians 2:5-11)!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Philip Bliss penned these words in 1875 as he thought on the powerful verse in Isaiah 53:3 – He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Walk With Jesus

What an event! On March 29th (Palm Sunday) we hosted Walk With Jesus, an Easter event for families. Together, families walked through Jesus’ last days to His resurrection. It was an incredible time, and I want to thank all involved. It was a team effort and I’m truly grateful for my church home. Like we told the our guests, remember: Jesus loves us! We follow Jesus!

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Act of Approach – Shortcomings

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O Living God,

I praise you that I see the worst of my heart as well as the best of it,

That I can grieve for those sins that carry me away from you,

And yet it is your mercy revealed that you judge sin,

so that I might return, pray, and live.

My sin is to look on my faults and be discouraged, or to look on my good and be puffed up.

I fall short of your glory every day by spending hours wastefully,

By thinking that the things I do are good, when they are not done for your purposes,

Nor do they spring from the commands of your Word.

My sin is to fear what never will be; I forget to submit to your will, and fail to be quiet there.

But Scripture teaches me that your active will reveals a steadfast purpose for me,

And this gives peace to my soul and causes me to love you greater still.

Keep me always in the understanding that your saints mourn more for sin than do other men,

for when they see how great your wrath is against sin,

and how Christ’s death alone satisfies that wrath,

that makes them mourn even more.

Help me to see that although I am at times in the wilderness of life

It is not all briers and wasteland

I have bread from heaven,

streams of water from the rock,

Light by day and fire by night

Your dwelling place and the seat of your mercy.

I am sometimes discouraged by the difficulty of The Way,

Though it is a winding and trying path,

it is safe and short;

Death dismays me, but my great high priest stands in its waters,

And will open to me a path,

And beyond it is a better country

While I live, let my life be a testimony of your grace,

When I die, may my end be eternal peace.

Adapted from The Valley of Vision, p.154-155

The Cross of Christ – A Review

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I can never express enough my gratitude to my FBC family for your support of me in seminary, both prayerfully and financially. Because of that, I try to share as much as possible from my experience there, and so today I wanted to post on here a book review I had to write recently for my systematic theology class. For those of you who have never read John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ, I can’t encourage you enough to check it out. Hopefully this review will give you just enough of the taste you need to pick it up and read one of the most influential and foundational works on evangelical theology to come out of the late twentieth century.

Stott, John R. W. The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1986. 380 pp.

 

Introduction

             John Stott’s Cross of Christ has stood for close to three decades as one of the author’s defining works and a solid expansion of basic evangelical views regarding Christ’s crucifixion. Stott was an evangelical Anglican cleric who served the church for over sixty years as curate, rector, and rector emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place in London. Stott was highly influential in leading evangelicals to remain within the Anglican Church, and his influence among evangelical Christians spread across the globe. His bibliography contains over fifty different books on a wide range of theological topics. Stott was known for his deep theological insights and his ability to explain such lofty concepts in simple, understandable terms.

The Cross of Christ is Stott’s attempt to demonstrate the central importance of Jesus’ crucifixion in understanding Christian theology. He seeks to place the cross at the center of all Christian doctrine and from there extricate its role in the totality of Christian life. From God’s relationship with man to man’s relationship with one another, the cross stands firm as a lasting symbol of the depth of Christianity. Christ’s crucifixion plays into every aspect of faith, and as such should be consistently commemorated and refocused upon. In this, Stott takes on a tall task by laying his scope upon the cross from its tiniest minutiae to its grandest implications for the follower of Christ.

Summary

            Stott’s work is broken down into 4 broad sections, which he has titled “Approaching the Cross,” “The Heart of the Cross,” “The Achievement of the Cross,” and “Living under the Cross.” The first section looks at the centrality of the cross to Christianity; why is the cross even important to begin with? The rest of the section looks at the events leading up to the cross, how even though Jesus was physically handed over by the hands of men, he still willingly gave himself up to die according to the Father’s plan. From this, Stott observed a number of smaller implications taken from various things Jesus said before and during the passion events, centering on the depth and seriousness of human sin.

Section two moves from preliminary matters to the theological depth of why exactly Christ had to die upon the cross. Chapter four examines the apparent contradiction between God’s holiness and his ability to cleanly forgive the abject deplorability that is sin.  Stott then turns to look at various theories of satisfaction proposed concerning the cross. Ultimately he lands on the concept of God’s self-satisfaction through display of his holy love. By sending Christ to the cross, both God’s condemnation of sin and his self-giving love were on display. Chapter six looks at Christ’s self-substitution in man’s place upon the cross and how it worked to bring about God’s satisfaction and man’s forgiveness.

Stott’s third section moves from the actions of the cross to their theological ramifications for the state of humanity. Possibly one of the most clarifying sections in the work, chapter seven looks at the aspects of salvation accomplished in the life of the believer. Specifically, Stott puts a magnifying glass over the terms propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation to see their true meaning for the believer in light of the cross. He connects this back to the previous section by noting how Christ’s substitution underwrites all these aspects of salvation. Next, Stott looks at the revelatory nature of the cross and how through Christ’s sacrifice the full love of God has been revealed. Finally, he looks at the theme of victory in Jesus—how Christ’s death won the battle over the devil and evil and how that victory is worked out both in the world and in the hearts of men.

Stott finishes his work with practicality by observing how exactly the truths of the cross show themselves through the actions of the Christian community and the lives of its members. Chapter ten looks specifically at the idea of celebration within the church and moves from a discussion on the newfound attitudes of celebration to a discussion on the depths of communion. Chapter eleven sees takes these new attitudes and applies them to self-worth and personal identity in Christ. He enumerates the many ways Christians should deny their old nature, embrace their new identity, and ultimately shine forth Christ’s self-sacrificial, giving love in this world. Chapter twelve moves out of self-sacrificial love towards loving one’s enemies and seeking to overcome evil with good. Finally, Stott closes the book with a number of views on the classic problem of evil, or suffering as he calls it. He enumerates a handful of ways that suffering in the Christian life falls in line with God’s character on the cross and how it can be ultimately edifying to the follower of Christ.

Analysis

It should be noted from the outset that the scope of Stott’s undertaking in this work is simply monumental. To take a subject so central, so foundational to the Christian faith and attack it from every direction requires a boldness that Stott certainly brings. Of course, for this reason, The Cross of Christ has been widely accepted as a deeply influential work since its penning nearly thirty years ago. Stott does a thorough job of looking at the entirety of the cross and its role in Christianity. By explicating the scriptural milieu leading up to the cross, Stott forms the basis for his theology. By delving into the depths why Jesus had to die, he uncovers solid truths of God’s nature and ability to forgive and reconcile sinners. By uncovering the theological realities brought about in the cross, he fills out the picture of man’s new life in Christ. And by ultimately elucidating the practical effects of the crucifixion on the Christian life, he lays a solid path down which a believer can travel with all this newfound insight.

As for his apparent thesis, Stott certainly fulfills expectations and then some. He lays out simply the centrality of the crucifixion to Christian theology and then explains its roles in all of Christian faith. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement has been criticized from all directions, but Stott stands here waving its flag with his feet planted firmly on biblical and logical grounds. His whole work makes a well-defined logical progression from the biblical bases to God’s problem of forgiveness to the actual accomplished work of Christ to finally how it all works out in the Christian life.  The fact that some thirty years after its composition, The Cross of Christ is still lauded as a thorough and foundational exposition on the doctrine of the cross proves its value both to the academic and the ecclesiological worlds.

One of the most glaring aspects of this work is the amount of John Stott’s personality put into its composition. Every chapter seemingly reveals a tinge more of who John Stott really was, from his intellectual stature to his pastoral nature. First, it is important to recognize the logic written into this work. Both on the grandest and smallest scales, Stott manages to keep his arguments logical and straightforward. No matter the topic, Stott keeps things in tidy order, so that the most important ideas are put forth as the most important over secondary issues. Primary, secondary, and even tertiary issues are certainly addressed, but Stott makes sure to keep them in their rightful series. One extremely helpful aspect of Stott’s logical nature shone through in his use of sequencing words to begin paragraphs listed in the same vein. When Stott begins a thought, he will introduce it and list how many sub-thoughts fall under it. Then, the following paragraphs tend to begin with proper sequencing language. For example, in discussing the biblical idea of propitiation, he notes it is “necessary to distinguish it from pagan ideas at three crucial points” (171). He then goes on to begin the following paragraphs with the main three points: “First, the reason why propitiation is necessary is that sin arouses the wrath of God…Second, who makes the propitiation…Third, what was the propitiatory sacrifice?” (171-172). By writing in this logical manner, Stott makes his arguments simple to follow and easy to review. This is enhanced by the inclusion of a study guide along in order to facilitate proper learning and internalization of the material even for laypeople without high theological training.

This final idea—that Stott greatly cares for the average reader and wants him or her to truly grasp the material—speaks to another aspect of Stott’s character. John Stott was a deeply intellectual man, for certain, but he was also a well known pastoral figure with a heart for people. Stott cared about his readers and that shows in his writing style. Instead of purposeful density of language, Stott states things clearly and concisely in order to better be consumed and absorbed by all. He utilizes imagery to its fullest in his explanation of theological principles. To use an example from the same chapter on different aspects of Christ’s salvation for sinners: each topic (propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation) he connects with the proper intellectual setting. Propitiation pictures a temple surrounding, redemption a marketplace, justification a court of law, and reconciliation a personal home. Through each of these images, Stott lays out a perfectly understandable idea and picture of what exactly Christ has accomplished.

Another aspect to consider that shines through Stott’s writing is his own personal background. As an evangelical Anglican minister, Stott has some views that maybe do not totally mesh with the average protestant evangelical. This comes through especially in his chapter on Christian community and celebration, where he spends a significant portion of the chapter discussing the theological foundations for and views of the Eucharist. Of course an Anglican and a Southern Baptist are not going to totally see eye to eye, but Stott focuses a significant portion of his words in this regard to looking at the confluence of Anglican and Roman Catholic views on communion. This certainly made for an interesting discussion, but was perhaps less practical in nature.

Ministry Relevance

            It seems as though this should go without saying, but the cross of Christ and the self-sacrificial, self-substitutionary atonement acquired therein are relevant to every aspect of Gospel ministry, since the cross is absolutely foundational to the Gospel message itself. As Paul plainly says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23). Every message we teach should revolve around that biblical truth and its implications for the lives of believers. This goes doubly so for my particular area of ministry—to youth—where so many messages cry for their attention and say their worth is found in other student’s opinions, their ability to perform on a sports field, how attractive they are, etc. Those societal pressures combine with a plethora of ministries that replace the deep truths of the gospel with fun, games, and a list of moral rules to follow and the result is an age group in significant need of the gospel, in a crucial time period of life, and with a lack of gospel witness. Thus, in youth ministry especially there is imperative need to focus on the cross of Christ and its teachings for students.

Conclusion

            On the whole, Stott’s work stands up to the praise and respect hurled at it by the evangelical community. It takes a comprehensive look at the salvatory work of Christ and the implications the nature of Christ’s crucifixion has on Christian Theology. Stott’s work covers a wide range of topics, from why it had to happen in such a way, to what the cross reveals about God himself, to how the cross should play into everyday life for the Christian. His writing is clear and understandable yet still holds to the weight and depth of the topics he covers. There is certainly reason for the high praise it has received.

I personally would absolutely recommend the book to others, for it provides a detailed look at such a basic yet integral doctrine of Christianity. For those who have no taste for intellectual theology, Stott writes in a way that is fairly accessible. For those who look for theological discussion on the highest level, Stott refuses to back down from tough topics and hard thoughts. He truly encompasses what the cross is about and how Christ’s work on it greatly affects the lives of every human. The cross, the whole cross, and nothing but the cross of Christ rings forth as Stott’s call to arms; let every Christian hear and proclaim the glories of Christ and his self-sacrificial, self-substitutionary atonement.

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