Self-Righteousness Will Destroy You — Charles Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Charles Spurgeon,

Self-righteousness will destroy you, my friend

and we therefore tell you, honestly and plainly, that you might as well hope to get to Heaven by flying up in a balloon as to get there by your good works! You may as soon sail to India in a sieve as get to Glory by your own goodness; you might as well go to court in cobwebs as seek to go to Heaven in your own righteousness. Away with your rags, your filthy, rotten rags! They are only a harbor for the parasites of unbelief and pride! Away with your rotten righteousness, your counterfeit gold, your forged wealth! It is of no worth whatever in the sight of God! Come to Him empty, poor, naked! It grates on your proud ears, does it? Better, I say, to lose your pride than to lose your soul! Why be damned for pride’s sake? Why carry your head so high that it must be cut off? Why feed your pride on your soul’s blood? Surely there is cheaper stuff than that for pride to drink! Why let it suck the very marrow out of your bones? Be wise!

Bow, stoop, stoop to be saved!

(excerpted from: The Interest of Christ and His People in Each Other, Sermon No. 374, delivered by C. H. Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, March 29, 1861) (Article Credit: Grace Gems)

Herman Bavinck on the Mirror of God’s Holy Law and the Subsequent Need for Grace

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

Herman Bavinck,

To correctly assess the benefit of justification, people must lift up their minds to the judgment seat of God and put themselves in his presence. When they compare themselves with others or measure themselves by the standard they apply to themselves or among each other, they have some reason perhaps to pride themselves in something and to put their trust in it. But when they put themselves before the face of God and examine themselves in the mirror of his holy law, all their conceit collapses, all self-confidence melts, and there is room left only for the prayer: “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” (Job 4:17-19; 9:2; 15:14-16; Ps. 143:2; cf.130:3), and there only comfort is that “there is forgiveness before you, so that you may be revered” (Ps. 130:4). If for insignificant, guilty, and impure persons there is to be a possibility of true religion, that is, of genuine fellowship with God, of salvation and eternal life, then God on his part must reestablish the broken bond, again take them into fellowship with him and share his grace with them, regardless of their guilt and corruption. He, then, must descend from the height of his majesty, seek us out and come to us, take away our guilt and again open the way to his fatherly heart. If God were to wait until we – by our faith, our virtues, and good works…- had made ourselves worthy, in part or in whole, to receive his favor, the restoration of communion between him and ourselves would never happen, and salvation would forever be out of reach for us.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 204-205

Used by permission of Baker Academic a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.

“Substitute Anything for Christ, and the Gospel is Totally Spoiled!” — J.C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

J.C. Ryle,

You may spoil the Gospel by substitution. You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith,—Jesus Christ; and to substitute another object in His place,—the Church, the Ministry, the Confessional, Baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, and the mischief is done. Substitute anything for Christ, and the Gospel is totally
spoiled! Do this, either directly or indirectly, and your religion ceases to be Evangelical.

You may spoil the Gospel by addition. You have only to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honour, and the mischief is done. Add anything to Christ, and the Gospel ceases to be a pure Gospel! Do this, either directly or indirectly, and your religion ceases to be Evangelical.

You may spoil the Gospel by interposition. You have only to push something between Christ and the eye of the soul, to draw away the sinner’s attention from the Saviour, and the mischief is done. Interpose anything between man and Christ, and man will neglect Christ for the thing interposed! Do this, either directly or indirectly, and your religion ceases to be Evangelical.

You may spoil the Gospel by disproportion. You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done. Once alter the proportion of the parts of truth, and truth soon becomes downright error! Do this, either directly or indirectly, and your religion ceases to be Evangelical. (from: Evangelical Religion, J.C. Ryle)

The Man-Abasing, God-Glorifying Nature of the Biblical Gospel — J. Gresham Machen

J. Gresham Machen,

Christ is a sufficient Saviour; but what has He done, and what will He do, not merely for the men who were with Him in the days of His flesh, but for us? How is it that Christ touches our lives?

The answer which the Word of God gives to that question is perfectly specific and perfectly plain. Christ touches our lives, according to the New Testament, through the Cross. We deserved eternal death, in accordance with the curse of God’s law; but the Lord Jesus, because He loved us, took upon Himself the guilt of our sins and died instead of us on Calvary. And faith consists simply in our acceptance of that wondrous gift. When we accept the gift, we are clothed, entirely without merit of our own, by the righteousness of Christ; when God looks upon us, He sees not our impurity but the spotless purity of Christ, and accepts us “as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

That view of the Cross, it cannot be denied, runs counter to the mind of the natural man. It is not, indeed, complicated or obscure; on the contrary it is so simple that a child can understand, and what is really obscure is the manifold modern effort to explain the Cross away in such fashion as to make it more agreeable to human pride. But certainly it is mysterious, and certainly it demands for its acceptance a tremendous sense of sin and guilt. That sense of sin and guilt, that moral awakening of a soul dead in sin, is the work of the Spirit of God; without the Spirit of God no human persuasion will ever bring men to faith. But that does not mean that we should be careless about the way in which we proclaim the gospel: because the proclamation of the message is insufficient to induce faith, it does not follow that it is unnecessary; on the contrary it is the means which the Spirit Himself graciously uses in bringing men to Christ. Every effort, therefore, should be made, with the help of God, to remove objections to this “word of the Cross” and to present it in all its gracious power. ¹

¹ J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), pp. 143-144 [First Published 1925]

What is Justification by Faith? — Phil Johnson [VIDEO]

“Justification deals with the question of our standing before God. How can I be right with God? That’s the question the Doctrine of Justification answers.” – Phil Johnson

Click on link below to watch this short video.
What is Justification by Faith?

Fixing Our Eyes on the Cross — Dr. Art Azurdia [VIDEO]

Another wonderful excerpt from a message given by Dr. Azurdia at one of the 2007 Faith and Life Conferences at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, California.

God’s Terrifying Presence, Apart From Christ — Charles Spurgeon

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” — John 17:3

Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Charles Spurgeon,

No one knows the true God in the real sense of knowledge except through Jesus Christ, for no man comes unto the Father but by the Son. But even if he could know God, in a measure, apart from the Revelation of Him in Christ Jesus, it would be a knowledge of terror that would make him flee away and avoid God! It would not be life to our souls to know God apart from His Son, Jesus Christ! We must know the Christ whom He has sent or our knowledge does not bring eternal life to us. But, Beloved, when we see God in Christ meeting us, demanding a penalty and yet providing it, Himself, decreeing the punishment most justly and then bearing it Himself. When we see Him to be both Judge and Expiation, both Ruler and Sacrifice, then we see that “herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the Propitiation for our sins.” Then it is, in the knowledge of God in Christ and God through Christ, that we find that we have entered into eternal life! (excerpted from: Eternal Life, Sermon #2396, delivered by C.H. Spurgeon at Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, February 6, 1887) (RT: Spurgeon Gems)

“How Is A Person Justified In God’s Sight?” — J.C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

No man can be justified by his works before God in the slightest possible degree. Before man he may be justified—his works may evidence the reality of his Christianity. Before God he cannot be justified by anything that he can do—he will be always defective, always imperfect, always short-coming, always far below the mark, so long as he lives. It is not by works of his own that anyone ever has peace and is a justified man.

But how then is a true Christian justified? What is the secret of that peace and sense of pardon which he enjoys? How can we understand a Holy God dealing with a sinful man—as with one innocent, and reckoning him righteous notwithstanding his many sins?

The answer to all these questions is short and simple. The true Christian is counted righteous for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is justified because of the death and atonement of Christ. He has peace because “Christ died for his sins according to the Scriptures.” This is the key that unlocks the mighty mystery. Here the great problem is solved, how God can be just and yet justify the ungodly. The life and death of the Lord Jesus explain all. “He is our peace.” (1 Cor. 15:3; Eph. 2:14.)

Christ has stood in the place of the true Christian. He has become his Surety and his Substitute. He undertook to bear all that was to be borne, and to do all that was to be done—and what He undertook He performed. Hence the true Christian is a justified man. (Isaiah 53:6.)

Christ has suffered for sins, the “just for the unjust.” He has endured our punishment in His own body on the cross. He has allowed the wrath of God, which we deserved, to fall on His own head. Hence the true Christian is a justified man. (1 Pet. 3:1.8.)

Christ has paid the debt the Christian owed, by His own blood. He has reckoned for it, and discharged it to the uttermost farthing by His own death. God is a just God, and will not require his debts to be paid twice over. Hence the true Christian is a justified man. (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 1:18, 19.)

Christ has obeyed the law of God perfectly. The devil, the Prince of this world, could find no fault in Him. By so fulfilling it He brought in an everlasting righteousness, in which all His people are clothed in the sight of God. Hence the true Christian is a justified man. (Dan 9:24; Rom 10:4.)

Christ, in one word, has lived for the true Christian. Christ has died for him. Christ has gone to the grave for him. Christ has risen again for him. Christ has ascended up on high for him, and gone into heaven to intercede for his soul. Christ has done all, paid all, suffered all that was needful for his redemption. (Col. 2:3; 3:11) (excerpted from: JUSTIFICATION!, J.C. Ryle)

Spiritual Growth: What It Is, And What It Is Not — J.C. Ryle

“Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
—2 Peter 3:18

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

J.C. Ryle,

When I speak of “growth in grace,” I do not for a moment mean that a believer’s interest in Christ can grow. I do not mean that he can grow in safety, acceptance with God, or security. I do not mean that he can ever be more justified, more pardoned, more forgiven, more at peace with God, than he is the first moment that he believes. I hold firmly that the justification of a believer is a finished, perfect, and complete work; and that the weakest saint, though he may not know and feel it, is as completely justified as the strongest. I hold firmly that our election, calling, and standing in Christ admit of no degrees, increase, or diminution. If any one dreams that by “growth in grace” I mean growth in justification he is utterly wide of the mark, and utterly mistaken about the whole point I am considering. I would go to the stake, God helping me, for the glorious truth, that in the matter of justification before God every believer is “complete in Christ” (Col. 2:10). Nothing can be added to his justification from the moment he believes, and nothing taken away.

When I speak of “growth in grace” I only mean increase in the degree, size, strength, vigour, and power of the graces which the Holy Spirit plants in a believer’s heart. I hold that every one of those graces admits of growth, progress, and increase. I hold that repentance, faith, hope, love, humility, zeal, courage, and the like, may be little or great, strong or weak, vigorous or feeble, and may vary greatly in the same man at different periods of his life. When I speak of a man “growing in grace,” I mean simply this—that his sense of sin is becoming deeper, his faith stronger, his hope brighter, his love more extensive, his spiritual-mindedness more marked. He feels more of the power of godliness in his own heart. He manifests more of it in his life. He is going on from strength to strength, from faith to faith, and from grace to grace. I leave it to others to describe such a man’s condition by any words they please. For myself I think the truest and best account of him is this—he is “growing in grace.” (Chapter VI: Growth from Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, J.C. Ryle) 


Related Posts:

John MacArthur: On The Key To Spiritual Growth In A Christian’s Life
Spiritual Growth: Not to Be Judged By Feelings or Emotions — A. W. Pink
How To Enjoy Bible Study by John MacArthur
Christians: Let Us Meditate On, Talk About, And Live By The Bible — J.C. Ryle
“Not What My Hands Have Done” — Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

Christian: You Will Never Be Condemned — A.W. Pink

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” —
Romans 8:1

Arthur Walkington Pink (1886-1952)

Condemnation is a word of tremendous import, and the better we understand it the more shall we appreciate the wondrous grace that has delivered us from its power. In the halls of a human court this is a term which falls with fearful knell upon the ear of the convicted criminal and fills the spectators with sadness and horror. But in the court of Divine Justice it is vested with a meaning and content infinitely more solemn and awe-inspiring. To that Court every member of Adam’s fallen race is cited. “Conceived in sin, shapen in iniquity” each one enters this world under arrest – an indicted criminal, a rebel manacled. How, then, is it possible for such a one to escape the execution of the dread sentence? There was only one way, and that was by the removal from us of that which called forth the sentence, namely sin. Let guilt be removed and there can be “no condemnation.”

Has guilt been removed, removed, we mean, from the sinner who believes? Let the Scriptures answer: “As far as the east is from the west so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions” (Isa. 43:25). “Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isa. 38:17). “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:17).

But how could guilt be removed? Only by it being transferred. Divine holiness could not ignore it; but Divine grace could and did transfer it. The sins of believers were transferred to Christ: “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). “For he hath made him to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21).

“There is therefore no condemnation.” The “no” is emphatic. It signifies there is no condemnation whatsoever. No condemnation from the law, or on account of inward corruption, or because Satan can substantiate a charge against me; there is none from any source or for any cause at all. “No condemnation” means that none at all is possible; that none ever will be. There is no condemnation because there is no accusation (see 8:33), and there can be no accusation because there is no imputation of sin (see 4:8). (excerpted from Comfort for Christians, A.W. Pink)

“Christian: You Can Neither Increase Nor Decrease In The Favor of God” — A.W. Pink

A.W. Pink (1886-1952)

Christian progress does not signify advancing in God’s favor. The believer’s growth in grace does not further him one iota in God’s esteem. How could it, since God is the Giver of his faith and the One who has “wrought all our works in us” (Isa. 26:12)! God’s favorable regard of His people originated not in anything whatever in them, either actual or foreseen. God’s grace is absolutely free, being the spontaneous exercise of His own mere good pleasure. The cause of its exercise lies wholly within Himself. The purposing grace of God is that good will which He had unto His people from all eternity: “Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9). And the dispensing grace of God is but the execution of His purpose, ministering to His people: thus we read “God giveth more grace,” yea, that “he giveth more grace” (James 4:6). It is entirely gratuitous, sovereignly bestowed, without any inducement being found in its object.

Furthermore, everything God does for and bestows on His people is for Christ’s sake. It is in no wise a question of their deserts, but of Christ’s deserts or what he merited for them. As Christ is the only Way by which we can approach the Father, so He is the sole channel through which God’s grace flows unto us. Hence we read of the “grace of God, and the gift of grace (namely, justifying righteousness) by one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:15); and again, “the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:4). The love of God toward us is in “Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). he forgives us “for Christ’s sake” (Eph. 4:32). He supplies all our need “according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). He brings us to heaven in answer to Christ’s prayer (John 17:24). Yet though Christ merits everything for us, the original cause was the sovereign grace of God. “Although the merits of Christ are the (procuring) cause of our salvation, yet they are not the cause of our being ordained to salvation, They are the cause of purchasing all things decreed unto us, but they are not the cause which first moved God to decree these things unto us.” (Thos. Goodwin)

The Christian is not accepted because of his graces, for the very graces (as their name connotes) are bestowed upon him by Divine bounty, and are not attained by any efforts of his. And so far from these graces being the reason why God accepts him, they are the fruits of his being “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” and, decretively, “blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1:3, 4). Settle it then in your own mind once for all, my reader, that growth in grace does not signify growing in the favor of God. This is essentially a Papish delusion, and though creature-flattering it is a horribly Christ—dishonoring one. Since God’s elect are “accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6), it is impossible that any subsequent change wrought in or attained by them could render them more excellent in His esteem or advance them in His love. When the Father announced concerning the incarnate Word “This is my beloved Son [not “with whom” but] in whom I am well pleased” He was expressing His delight in the whole election of grace, for He was speaking of Christ in His federal character, as the last Adam, as head of His mystical body.

The Christian can neither increase nor decrease in the favor of God, nor can anything he does or fails to do alter or affect to the slightest degree his perfect standing in Christ. Yet let it not be inferred from this that his conduct is of little importance or that God’s dealings with him have no relation to his daily walk. While avoiding the Romish conceit of human merits, we must be on our guard against Antinomian licentiousness. As the moral Governor of this world God takes note of our conduct, and in a variety of ways makes manifest His approbation or disapprobation: “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11), yet to His own people God says “your sins have withholden good things from you” (Jer. 5:25). So, too, as the Father He maintains discipline in His family, and when His children are refractory He uses the rod (Ps. 89:3-33). Special manifestations of Divine love are granted to the obedient (John 14:21, 23), but are withheld from the disobedient and the careless. —Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)

(Arthur W. Pink, Spiritual Growth [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971, 1976, 1996]) pp., 20,21,22

John MacArthur: On What Happens To A Christian Who Sins Just Before Dying

Link to audio at Grace To You —> If a Christian sins just before dying, will he or she still go to heaven?.

“The Greatest of All Protestant Heresies”? by Sinclair Ferguson

by Sinclair Ferguson

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson

Let us begin with a church history exam question. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement.

How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies? Perhaps justification by faith? Perhaps Scripture alone, or one of the other Reformation watchwords?

Those answers make logical sense. But none of them completes Bellarmine’s sentence. What he wrote was: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.”

A moment’s reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be “added” for final justification to be ours. That is exactly the problem. If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For then, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone (apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands — then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.

No wonder Bellarmine thought full, free, unfettered grace was dangerous! No wonder the Reformers loved the letter to the Hebrews!

This is why, as the author of Hebrews pauses for breath at the climax of his exposition of Christ’s work (Heb. 10:18), he continues his argument with a Paul-like “therefore” (Heb. 10:19). He then urges us to “draw near … in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). We do not need to re-read the whole letter to see the logical power of his “therefore.” Christ is our High Priest; our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience just as our bodies have been washed with pure water (v.22).

Christ has once-for-all become the sacrifice for our sins, and has been raised and vindicated in the power of an indestructible life as our representative priest. By faith in Him, we are as righteous before the throne of God as He is righteous. For we are justified in His righteousness, His justification alone is ours! And we can no more lose this justification than He can fall from heaven. Thus our justification does not need to be completed any more than does Christ’s!

With this in view, the author says, “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who come to God by him” (Heb. 10:14). The reason we can stand before God in full assurance is because we now experience our “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and … bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

“Ah,” retorted Cardinal Bellarmine’s Rome, “teach this and those who believe it will live in license and antinomianism.” But listen instead to the logic of Hebrews. Enjoying this assurance leads to four things: First, an unwavering faithfulness to our confession of faith in Jesus Christ alone as our hope (v.23); second, a careful consideration of how we can encourage each other to “love and good works” (v.24); third, an ongoing communion with other Christians in worship and every aspect of our fellowship (v.25a); fourth, a life in which we exhort one another to keep looking to Christ and to be faithful to him, as the time of his return draws ever nearer (25b).

It is the good tree that produces good fruit, not the other way round. We are not saved by works; we are saved for works. In fact we are God’s workmanship at work (Eph. 2:9–10)! Thus, rather than lead to a life of moral and spiritual indifference, the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ and the full-assurance faith it produces, provides believers with the most powerful impetus to live for God’s glory and pleasure. Furthermore, this full assurance is rooted in the fact that God Himself has done all this for us. He has revealed His heart to us in Christ. The Father does not require the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us. Christ died because the Father loves us (John 3:16). He does not lurk behind His Son with sinister intent wishing He could do us ill — were it not for the sacrifice his Son had made! No, a thousand times no! — the Father Himself loves us in the love of the Son and the love of the Spirit.

Those who enjoy such assurance do not go to the saints or to Mary. Those who look only to Jesus need look nowhere else. In Him we enjoy full assurance of salvation. The greatest of all heresies? If heresy, let me enjoy this most blessed of “heresies”! For it is God’s own truth and grace!

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From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: Email: Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

“Christ Lays His Hand Upon Us and We Are Healed” — Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Martin Luther,

“It is impossible for a man to be a Christian without having Christ, and if he has Christ, he has at the same time all that is in Christ. What gives peace to the conscience is that by faith our sins are no more ours, but Christ’s, upon whom God hath laid them all; and that, on the other hand, all Christ’s righteousness is ours, to whom God hath given it. Christ lays His hand upon us, and we are healed. He casts His mantle upon us, and we are clothed; for He is the glorious Savior, blessed for ever.” — Martin Luther (1483-1546)

cited in John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8 (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1991), p. 402

“Justification by Death?” by R.C. Sproul

“Justification by Death?”

by R.C. Sproul

In the sixteenth century, Christendom underwent one of the most extensive and serious schisms in its history. The chief article that caused the controversy to end in division was the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Protestant Reformation was not a tempest in a teapot. The issue that divided the Roman Catholics from the Protestant Reformers was not a secondary or tertiary doctrine. The dispute focused on the essence of the gospel. Some have argued that sola fide (faith alone) is central to the Christian faith but not essential. I contend, however, that it is essential to the gospel in that, without sola fide, we do not have the gospel. And without the gospel, we have no salvation.

One would think after so many centuries of dissemination of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, particularly in Protestant countries, that the doctrine would be firmly entrenched in the minds of Christian people. But such is not the case. Those who hold to justification by faith alone are clearly in a minority. More popular views are the doctrines of justification by works and justification by a combination of faith and works. These really reflect not so much Christian views of the matter as a Muslim one. In the Muslim view, a person’s eternal destiny is determined by the scales of justice. If one’s good works outweigh the bad deeds, then the person goes to heaven. If the bad deeds outweigh the good deeds, the person goes to hell. This view is held by many professing Christians, who still entertain the idea that they can gain entrance into heaven and into the kingdom of God by living a good life. As long as they refrain from egregious sins such as murder, grand theft, or adultery, they think they have kept their moral slates clean enough to get them past the gates of judgment.

As fallacious as that view is, there is a view even more insidious in its subtlety and thus more pervasive — the cultural view of justification that is widely held in the West. That doctrine is the doctrine of justification by death. It is an implicit universalism that assumes everyone goes to heaven when he or she dies. Perhaps the most rank evildoers, such as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin, may not make it, but the average person certainly has nothing to worry about.

I was informed of how pervasive this doctrine is when I asked my son, when he was a child, the second diagnostic question made popular by Evangelism Explosion. I asked him: “If you were to die tonight and God were to say to you, why should I let you into My heaven, what would you say?” His eyes lit up and he looked at me with a shocked expression as if the question I had just proffered was the most stupid he had ever heard. With a simple shrug, he said, “Well, I would say He should let me in because I’m dead.” In other words, “Doesn’t everyone who dies enter into God’s redeeming presence?” Here was a son of a father who was by profession a theologian — a Reformed theologian — who not only had failed to grasp the doctrine of justification by faith alone but wasn’t even sidelined by a doctrine of justification by works. He was content to rest on his assumption of justification by death.

Of course, my young son’s confession of faith, or the lack thereof, is by no means an isolated instance in our culture. Nothing transforms sinners into valorous saints more miraculously or more frequently than death. Go to the funeral of the most wicked sinner you know and you will hear a eulogy that guarantees that person’s entrance into the kingdom of God.

What drives this pervasive belief in justification by death? I think there are several factors. One is a misinformed idea of the character of God. We are told ad nauseum that God loves everyone unconditionally. The necessary inference that people draw from that is simple: If God loves me unconditionally, then there are no conditions that I must meet in order to enter into heavenly bliss. In a sense, God, if He is loving, is obligated to give me eternal life.

The second driving factor is a widespread denial of hell. The whole concept of hell is so ghastly and difficult even to comprehend that we have a visceral response of denial to it. We cannot imagine any of our loved ones ever being assigned to such a dreadful place. We also find in our culture a rejection of the whole idea of a final judgment. Never mind that our Lord taught again and again that each one of us will stand before God and will be held accountable for his or her sins — to the extent that even every idle word we speak will be brought into judgment. No one escapes the judgment of God. We all must stand before that final tribunal and be judged not on a curve, not according to how we stack up against other people in this world, but how we stand according to God’s standard of righteousness, a standard that none of us will ever reach.

The Bible speaks of two ways in which people die. There are those who die in faith and, because of that faith, are linked to the atoning work of Christ and receive the benefits of His atoning work, including entrance into His kingdom. The other way that the Bible speaks of dying is dying in sin. Those who die in sin are those who die in a state of impenitence. Such people have never bowed the knee to the living God and cried out from their helplessness for His grace. Instead of clinging to the cross and coming with nothing in our hands, it is our nature as fallen creatures to try to bring something in our hands that will pay the price that needs to be paid for our redemption. This is the height or, perhaps, the nadir of folly. The only thing we can be sure of is that death will give us judgment. The question is, do we have that faith by which we are linked to the righteousness of Christ and all the benefits of His ministry on our behalf, or will we stand alone at that judgment bar of Christ?
From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: Email: Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.


Burk Parsons: On The Dangers Of Those Who “Decorate The Cross”

“It Is Finished”

by Burk Parsons

As I consider the state of the evangelical church at the beginning of the twenty-first century, I observe a people who have swapped their faith for a bumper sticker and a church that has been caught up with the wrappings of religion. Many in the church have grown tired of that old-time religion, and they have become enamored with the affluence of get-holy-quick, pop-Christian programs. They have joined arms with the razzlers and the dazzlers of the world’s marketplace, and they have set out on a journey down a yellow-brick road that will lead only to the great and powerful Judge whom they do not recognize, for without even realizing it they have abandoned their first love. For all practical purposes, the person and work of Jesus Christ have become commonplace, and the finished work of Christ’s atonement is largely taken for granted.

Nevertheless, the atoning death of the Lord of glory is never to be regarded merely as a pleasant fact of history. Redemption has been accomplished. God promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, and He promised that the Christ would be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order to redeem those under the Law for the express purpose that we, His people, might be adopted as sons of God. God’s Word is filled with the story of God’s enduring love for His people. From Genesis to Revelation, God reveals the progress of the salvation of His people culminating in the death of death in the death of the Savior who cried out “It is finished.”

Although no one would ever admit it, many have attempted to displace the redemptive work of Jesus Christ — wrapping the entire doctrine of redemption in ornate packaging with colorful bows and ribbons in order to make Jesus look as attractive as possible so that He would not be an offense to anyone contemplating the option of religion. However, it does not matter if we dress up Jesus in the most colorful robes of our culture, and it does not matter how we decorate the cross of Christ; it will always be an offense to the unbelieving world. We cannot disguise the cross of Christ, nor can we hide its radiance. For it was upon the cross the Prince of glory died so that we might live, move, and have our being coram Deo, before His face and for His glory alone.

We Recommend
The Burnt Offering Devotional
The Redeemer Message by R.C. Sproul
Did the atonement apply to those who lived before the crucifixion of Christ? Q&A

From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: Email: Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

“What Ever Happened to Sin?” by Michael S. Horton, Ph.D.

“What Ever Happened to Sin?”

by Michael S. Horton, Ph.D.

This article is a part of a collection of essays written recently by Dr. Horton after his interview on 60 Minutes which aired on October 14, 2007.

In his interview with Larry King (CNN, June 20, 2005), Joel Osteen said that he is not sure what happens to people who reject Christ. King followed up with the question about Jews, Moslems, and other non-Christians. “They’re wrong, aren’t they?” Osteen replied, “Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong. I believe here’s what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God will judge a person’s heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.”King (and a caller) gave him a few more chances to answer the question, but it kept coming back to the heart: “God’s got to look at your heart.” Evidently, the last judgment will be based not on God’s standard of holiness and justice but on the purity of our hearts.Certainly there is truth in this position. God will expose all of the secrets of our hearts on the last day. However, where Osteen seems to think that God’s judgment of our heart (like his record-keeping) is good news, Scripture treats it as the worst possible report, since “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9). Jesus added, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mt 15:11). My heart has conceived and committed sins that my hands have never carried out. Far from being a relatively unspoiled beach of sanctity, the heart is the citadel from which our mutiny against God and neighbor is launched. Even when I have done the right thing as far as other people are concerned, if my sincerity were weighed, it would actually count against my righteousness. So to think that our trial before God’s all-knowing justice can somehow turn in our favor by examination of our heart or the record of our life is a dangerous mistake. I keep thinking of St. Anselm’s great line to those who thought that Christ’s death was not a vicarious substitution: “You have not yet considered how great is your sin is.” Osteen’s outlook may resonate with Americans steeped in a sentimentalized version of the Pelagian heresy of self-salvation. But it is not Christianity.When asked by Larry King if he uses the word “sinners,” Osteen replied, “I don’t use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don’t. But most people already know what [when] they’re doing wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change.” What’s remarkable is the he has not even thought about it.Osteen’s view of sin, ironically, is actually quite similar to the “hellfire and brimstone” preaching of a prior generation. To be sure, you’ll never hear him threatening, “You’ll go to hell if you dance. Don’t smoke, or you will incur God’s judgment.” Heaven and hell are not exactly your major themes when the message is all about “your best life now.” But his message is still very much about moral therapy: changing your lifestyle to receive God’s favor. It’s not heaven in the hereafter, but happiness here and now: but it is still up to you to make it happen.The older fundamentalists whom Osteen has in mind had their “sin lists” for which you could be condemned. Not only were most of these major “sins” never mentioned in Scripture; they reduced sin to “sins.” Of course, sins can to some extent be managed, especially when they are taboos that we have invented. I can stop going to movies. It may be hard, but I can probably swear off of a nice pint of Guinness every now and then. Such churches were filled with people who thought well of themselves because they had managed to shun legalism’s “sin lists.” However, the sins that the Bible mentions are less easily managed: gossip, envy, strife, coveting. For many of us, these vices actually mentioned in Scripture were often more evident in the church than they were among our neighbors. So the first thing to do in order to trivialize sin and make it look as though our righteousness can withstand God’s judgment is to come up with our own sin list rather than God’s.The second move in this trivialization of sin is to reduce it to actions rather than a condition. If I can stop committing sin x, then it is at least logically possible that I can stop committing sin y, and so on, until I am at least avoiding all known sins. If, however, sin is first of all a condition and only secondarily actions, then no matter how many sins I “conquer,” I’m still sinful! No matter what advances I think I’ve made, according to God, “There is no one righteous, no not even one; no one who understands; no one who seeks for God” (Rom 3:10-11, quoting Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3). “Our righteousness”—never mind our sins!—“is like filthy rags” (Is 64:6). So now we can no longer rest confidently in our own behaviors, standards, Judeo-Christian ethics, virtues, discipleship, deeds of love and kindness, and pious spirituality. We can no longer divide the world neatly into “decent” and “disgusting.” We must take our place with the prostitutes and publicans rather than with the Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom of God.

Wouldn’t Osteen’s message have a lot in common with what I’ve just said? In tone, perhaps. However, instead of considering us Christians as just as disqualified from heaven on our own merits as publicans and prostitutes, his message assumes that deep down, we are all—including publicans and prostitutes—pretty good people who could just be a little better. Ironically, he shares with his “hellfire and brimstone” forebears an assumption that sin is not an all-encompassing condition from which we cannot free ourselves, but particular actions that we can overcome through good instructions. And he too has his own lists. He may include some of the older taboos, but the main “sins” are failing to put God’s principles for success into practice.

There are important differences, of course. First of all, “sins” seem to lack any clear vertical dimension. That is, it is not obvious that sin, in Osteen’s view, is an offense against God. That’s why he does not speak of sins, but mistakes or failures to be all we can be. According to the Bible, it is their offensiveness to God that makes such attitudes and actions sins in the first place. Without that vertical (God-oriented) dimension, even sinful actions lose their moral context. Instead, they become translated into the therapeutic language of “dysfunction,” unhealthy behaviors that fail to merit God’s favor on us in our daily search for good parking spaces. But sinful actions, in this view, even lack the usual horizontal dimension: an offense against our neighbors. Even the social gospel, which made sin more of an offense against our fellow-humans rather than first and foremost against God, at least recognized it as a failure to give to someone else the love and service that I owe. In the increasingly pervasive message of preachers like Osteen, however, sins become offenses I commit against myself that keep me from realizing my own expectations. It is therapeutic narcissism: I have failed to live up to my potential, or to secure God’s best for my life, or to follow the instructions that lead to the good life. Can we even comprehend in our human-centered universe of discourse today the God-centered orientation of David’s confession to God, “Against you and you alone have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps 51:4)?

Second, Osteen does not even use the word “sin” or “sinners,” as he himself observed above. In its place apparently is something like “mistake.” No longer “falling short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), sin is falling short of my best life now. “Is it hard to lead a Christian life?”, asked Larry King. “I don’t think it’s that hard,” Osteen replied. “To me it’s fun. We have joy and happiness….I’m not trying to follow a set of rules and stuff. I’m just living my life.”

Again we meet the swinging pendulum: recoiling from the decidedly “un-fun” legalism of his youth, Osteen rebounds into the arms of antinomianism (no law). No wonder he does not speak of sins (much less the sinful condition that renders us all—even believers—“sinners”), since there is apparently no divinely given “set of rules” that might identify such an offense. The standard is not righteousness, but fun; not holiness before God, but happiness before oneself.

It is not obvious that Christ—at least his incarnation, obedient life, atoning death, and justifying and life-giving resurrection—is necessary at all in Osteen’s scheme. “But you have rules, don’t you?”, King pressed, to which Osteen replied, “We do have rules. But the main rule is to honor God with your life. To live a life of integrity. Not be selfish. You know, help others. But that’s really the essence of the Christian faith.” Notice how Osteen’s happy, fun-filled Christian life without rules suddenly becomes the most demanding religion possible. He is certainly correct when he says that God commands a life of integrity and helping others, not being selfish. In fact, Jesus excoriated the Pharisees for substituting their own petty laws for God’s commands, which actually served some good purpose for our neighbors. However, this is precisely what the Law prescribes. Jesus said that “the whole law” is summarized in one sentence: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37). Osteen apparently thinks that this is easier than following “a set of rules.” In truth, as the rich young ruler learned, it is not. I may keep from literally killing my neighbor, but if I have not sacrificed everything for my neighbor’s good, I have not really loved him or her. Osteen thinks that loving our neighbor is easier than “a lot of rules,” but Jesus showed us that it’s the other way around. One may be sexually pure to one’s friends, but God knows whether adultery has been committed in one’s heart.

Osteen said that perhaps talk of God’s judgment “was for a time,” a generation ago. “But I don’t have it in my heart to condemn people. I’m there to encourage them. I see myself more as a coach, as a motivator to help them experience the life God has for us.”

At first glance, this sounds humble—and perhaps, compared to some of the moralistic and self-righteous jeremiads of yesteryear that threatened God’s judgment for drinking a glass of wine or going to a movie, it is. However, the answer to bad law-preaching is good law-preaching, not its elimination. The proper preaching of the law—God’s holiness, righteousness, glory, and justice—will not create an “us” versus “them” self-righteousness, but will expose the best works, done from the best motives of the best among us as “filthy rags” before God’s searching judgment. Bad law-preaching levels some of us; Osteen’s omission of the law levels none of us; biblical preaching of the law levels all of us.

It is actually arrogant for ambassadors to create their own policies, especially when they directly counter the word of the one who sent them. Osteen seems to admit that Jesus Christ is in some way unique and important, but he presumes ignorance of a point that Christ made perfectly clear: namely, that he the only way of salvation from the coming judgment.

Was Jesus’ message (however radically different from the rambling jeremiads of fundamentalism) only “for a time” as well? Did Jesus think that people are basically good when you look at their heart? Did he think that sincerity and moral effort would suffice as our clothing when we appear before the judge of all the earth?

If Jesus and the apostles clearly proclaimed the total depravity of the human heart and redemption by Christ alone through faith alone, then Osteen is not being humble when he declines to represent that central announcement. It was Jesus who said that those who do not trust in him “stand condemned already” (Jn 3:18). That was because for Jesus, the judgment that he came to save us from by enduring it for us had God and his glory, not me and my temporal happiness, as its reference point. The ditch we had dug for ourselves was so deep that only God incarnate could pull us out of it by falling in and climbing back out of it himself as our substitute and victor. For him, the good news is that on judgment day God will look at our heart. According to Scripture, that is actually the bad news. The good news is that for all who are in Christ, God looks on the heart, life, death, and resurrection of his Son and declares us righteous in him. It is not a cheap gift, but a free gift.

The Bad News Is Far Worse
The bad news is far worse than that we are not experiencing health, wealth, and happiness now. It is that we are actually dying and nothing can reverse this fact. It gets worse. Death is just a symptom. We will all have a different “cause of death” listed on the medical certificate. However, death itself is the result of a condition we all share: “The wages of sin is death…” (Rom 6:23); “The sting of death is sin, and the power of death is the law” (1 Cor 15:56). Notice that it is not sins (particular actions), but sin (a condition), that requires our death. Even now, we are falling apart on our way toward death—even if we are having our best life now.

The Good News is Far Better
The good news is far greater than finding a way to mask our symptoms. In both of those passages just cited, it is the counter-point to the bad news: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:23). “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:56-57). The victory here promised is far greater than relief from stress, sadness, loneliness, disappointment, and even illness leading to death. It is the victory over everlasting death through the resurrection on the last day, as we share in Christ’s victory over the grave: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Cor 15:54-55). Christ did not deal with symptoms; he went right to the source: the curse that his law justly imposes as the penalty for our participation in Adam’s sin. As the first Adam brought death, the Last Adam brought eternal life (1 Cor 15:20-24).

Far greater than living longer, enjoying ourselves and our circumstances, is the unfathomable richness of our life together with God, reconciled even while we were enemies, made alive even while we were spiritually dead, brought near even while we were strangers, and adopted as co-heirs of the entire estate even while we were hostile to the things of God. Even now we begin to enjoy a foretaste of this feast, as those for whom “there is therefore no condemnation” (Rom 8:1). Through faith in Christ, we have the assurance that the last judgment has already been determined in our favor despite our sinfulness even as Christians. In the midst of our suffering, pain, and even death, we can confidently cling to the promise that Paul quotes from Isaiah 64:4, namely that which “‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Cor 2:9). Where the gospel has salvation from the guilt and tyranny of sin now and from the presence and effects of sin in the future, Osteen’s very American message has the gospel as salvation from the symptoms of sin now without any clear proclamation of the far greater liberation from God’s wrath.

Because he does not face the bad news, Osteen does not really have any good news. To paraphrase Jesus’ description of his generation in Luke 7:31-35, Osteen’s message teaches us to sing neither the Blues nor the triumphant anthem. It’s more like a steady, droning, upbeat hum that we hear on the elevator or at the mall, keeping everything light and undisturbing.

If Osteen were a herald, ambassador, and messenger of the gospel, he would humbly yet confidently proclaim the message that we have been given, rather than deciding for himself what kind of ministry for which he wants to be remembered. An ambassador is sent with the word of his superior. However, Osteen sees himself “more as a coach, as a motivator to help [people] experience the life God has for us.” Not only does Osteen’s commitment to his own message and ministry fail to serve the interests of God’s kingdom; they fall far short of truly serving his hearers. If he loves the people to whom he speaks, he will give them the truth about their situation before God and the good news of God’s grace in Christ.

Of course, it is a lot easier to say, “…I don’t have it in my heart to condemn people,” when you are asked if Jesus is the only way of salvation. It makes us look good. We can be the “nice guy” in a culture that prizes being nice. But being nice isn’t always loving. A doctor who can’t bring himself or herself to inform you of your cancer in time to receive a possible cure is actually selfish. We trust such informed people to tell us the truth regardless of the personal anxiety or unpleasantness of the news.

God’s Truth vs. Our Spin
God’s love is far greater than being nice. He tells us the truth. First, he tells us the truth about our condition. We are not sick, but “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1); not good people who could do better, but those who are in ourselves incapable of meeting God’s righteous standard (Rom 3:1-20). If we are to be judged on our own integrity, we will be lost. Although God could have left the matter there, he freely determined from all eternity to choose, redeem, justify, regenerate, sanctify, and glorify a new humanity “from every race, kindred, tongue, people and nation” (Rev 5:9). Even when we try—in fact, especially when we try—to supplement Christ’s perfect righteousness with our “sincerity” and our good intentions, God says, “What, as if it’s not enough that I bear all the burden of saving sinners, but you now want to add something of your own and get a little glory for yourselves? You presume to add a little bit of your own ‘righteousness’ to the finished work of my Son?” So we add ingratitude to our explicit violations of God’s law.

When God finishes telling us the bad news, it is not just the non-Christians or “backsliders” who feel its sting, but the most pious believers who recognize that their “righteousness” is actually “dung” compared to the righteousness that God requires and the righteousness that Christ fulfilled (Phil 3).

But God also tells the truth about the good news. No doctor can actually assume your cancer, suffer its terrible results, and assure your resurrection by his own victory over death. But God has done this! As God incarnate, Christ fulfilled his own law in our place, bore its judgments against us on the cross, and was raised the third day for our justification (Rom 4:25). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10). True love is exhibited in God’s act of reconciling sinners to himself by doing what he commanded us to do, bearing the judgment that we deserved for not having done it, and clothing us in the perfect righteousness of the incarnate Son. Salvation is therefore a free gift for us, though it cost God dearly. “Nice” seems trivial in comparison to God’s love and mercy.

Osteen is certainly correct when he says that we cannot assume God’s role in the last judgment. We cannot condemn anyone. Nevertheless, we have no choice—if we are faithful witnesses—other than to announce the condemnation that rests on all who have not turned from their own claims to righteousness, decency, sincerity, and piety to embrace the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. It is not our condemnation, but our clear warning of God’s just condemnation of all who are outside of Christ, that the Lord of the church mandates. Osteen’s message is softer, but it is not kinder. He thinks that people who show signs of integrity and a willingness to change are candidates for God’s blessings. He does not believe that God justifies the wicked, but that he says, “You’re not too bad” to those who do their best.

By contrast, the gospel is that God justifies the ungodly—even hypocritical Christians like me. It is the good news of free forgiveness and justification that he gives us the privilege to announce to sinners such as ourselves. The bad news is worse than having our worst life now. But that also means that the good news is far better than having our best life now. “The present sufferings,” according to Paul, “are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).

Fulfilling his calling to pronounce God’s judgment (“woes”) on the nations, Isaiah beheld a vision of God in his majestic holiness and the only words he could eek out were, “Woe to me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.” Why? Because he has compared himself to the others? No. “For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (v 5). Integrity means having it all together, like a seamless robe. “Lost” in some sense captures the Hebrew idiom, but the old Authorized Version has a slightly better rendering: “I am undone.” Undone here means “unraveled.” In other words, a life that seemed to exhibit integrity in comparison with “the wicked” now seems perverse in comparison with God’s holy beauty. Yet Isaiah’s despair is only the prelude for God’s gracious act: In the vision, a heavenly being is sent from God’s throne to bring salvation and forgiveness. It is only because of this gracious action on God’s part that Isaiah then cries out, “Here I am, Lord, send me!” (vv 6-13).

It is this sense of God’s majesty, holiness, and righteousness—his distance from us as our judge and king—that is totally absent in Osteen’s message. God is our buddy who exists for our happiness, not we for his glory. At the end of the day, Osteen’s “good news” is the worst possible news. God’s blessing on my life depend on my honoring God with my life, living a life of integrity, and not being selfish. Not only does Osteen affirm this; he adds, “But that’s really the essence of the Christian faith.” If so, what makes Christianity any different from other religions? Is the essence of the Christian faith my life, righteousness, integrity, and helping others or Christ’s? We meet here Paul’s absolute contrast between “the righteousness that is by the works of the law” and “the righteousness that is by faith in Christ.” There is no more damning criticism that one can offer of Osteen’s message than that it takes the former route, albeit in a more upbeat, pleasant, and cheerful tone.

Read other essays in this collection:

•Joel Osteen and the Glory Story >>

Are You in God’s Story? >>

Suffering and a Theology of Glory >>

Doesn’t God Want Us to be Happy? >>

For additional resources on this subject visit Dr. Horton’s national radio broadcast website: The White Horse Inn >>© 2007 Westminster Seminary California All rights reservedBy Michael S. Horton, Ph.D. © 2007 Westminster Seminary California. Website: E-mail: Phone: 888/480.8474
This has been reproduced here in strict adherence to the written copyright guidelines of Westminster Seminary California.

“Are You In God’s Story Or Is God in Yours?” by Michael S. Horton, Ph.D.

Another excellent and much need article by Michael Horton!

“Are you in God’s story or is God in Yours?”

by Michael S. Horton, Ph.D.

This article is a part of a collection of essays written recently by Dr. Horton after his interview on 60 Minutes which aired on October 14, 2007.

Famous for their creed, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” Epicureanism anticipated the late nineteenth-century German nihilist Friedrich Nietzsche, who argued that although one’s life has no meaning, one can give it meaning. Although there is no transcendent purpose, I can make one for myself. “Truth is made, not discovered,” he said. Take your own short life out of the drama of God’s purposes in creation, redemption, and the age to come and it’s just so many pieces of film on the cutting room floor.

Our first parents wanted to make a story for themselves instead of play their supporting role. It’s called “autonomy”: being a law to oneself. It’s all about being in charge. “I did it my way.” “I am the master of my fate the captain of my soul.” “I want it all, I want it now.” “Sure it costs more, but I’m worth it.”But going “solo” isn’t all it is cracked up to be. There is a terrible burden in trying to be God when you are not. When God casts us as new characters in his drama of redemption, we realize that we were created for a purpose larger than ourselves and look forward to a future that is grander than anything we could imagine, much less create, for ourselves. Ironically, those who seek their best life now, centering on themselves and their story rather than on God and his story, not even their life here and now makes any sense. Their own script—even when it allows God a supporting role—becomes dull. No wonder so many people walk out of the theater in the middle.We are witnessing a resurgence of Epicureanism, but this time not only in its usual (and, I think Paul would argue, sane) form; it’s a form of evangelical Epicureanism in which Christianity is offered as a more effective path to our own self-fulfillment and self-salvation. Each of us is the center of the universe and religion is entirely subjective: how we feel, what we want out of “god,” and what it takes to make us happy. It has nothing to do with whether any of this is true or has any connection to someone or something outside of us.Today, “nihilism” is what we call this Epicurean philosophy of “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” It is John Lennon’s “Imagine,” with a denial of heaven and hell as the basis for peace and harmony in the world at last here and now. At least Lennon was imagining a world of peace and love rather than narcissism and greed. Today, however, it is now evangelical TV preachers who purvey this cruder form of Epicurean nihilism in the guise of religion. Get your life together and establish a personal relationship with God by following certain principles, and you’ll be happy and successful. Even if God doesn’t exist and never raised his Son from the dead, it’s a useful lie. No, says Paul, the only sane alternative to Christianity is Nietzsche’s brand of Epicureanism straight-up: the courageous embrace of power and glory here and now. Grab it while you can. For the things that Osteen and many other preachers today promise, you do not need Christ. You do not need the Bible, just Tony Robbins. You do not need the kind of redemption that is promised in the gospel. It is not even clear why you would need God simply to have a more positive outlook on life.When we try to fit God into our “life movie,” the plot is all wrong—and not just wrong, but trivial. When we are pulled out of our own drama and cast as characters in his unfolding plot, we become part of the greatest story ever told. It is through God’s word of judgment (law) and salvation (gospel) that we are transferred from our own “life movie” and inserted into the grand narrative that revolves around Jesus Christ. In the process, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us,

We are uprooted from our own existence and are taken back to the holy history of God on earth. There God has dealt with us, with our needs and our sins, by means of the divine wrath and grace. What is important is not that God is a spectator and participant in our life today, but that we are attentive listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the story of Christ on earth. God is with us today only as long as we are there. Our salvation is ‘from outside ourselves’ (extra nos). I find salvation, not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ…What we call our life, our troubles, and our guilt is by no means the whole of reality; our life, our need, our guilt, and our deliverance are there in the Scriptures.¹

1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Life Together (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 62

Read other essays in this collection:

Joel Osteen and the Glory Story >>

What Ever Happened to Sin? >>

Suffering and a Theology of Glory >>

Doesn’t God Want Us to be Happy? >>For additional resources on this subject visit Dr. Horton’s national radio broadcast website: The White Horse Inn >>

© 2007 Westminster Seminary California All rights reserved

By Michael S. Horton, Ph.D. © 2007 Westminster Seminary California. Website: E-mail: Phone: 888/480.8474

This article has been reproduced here in strict adherence to the written copyright guidelines of Westminster Seminary California. – Eric T. Young