Bible, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW “Controlling Anger: Responding Constructively When Life Goes Wrong” by David Powlison

Powlison’s booklet is the best starting point to understand the nature of anger and how to express anger in healthy righteous ways. Controlling Anger is published by New Growth Press in partnership with CCEF. It is only fifteen pages and can be downloaded to Kindle. Students and adults will both find it readable. This booklet is a great summary of the Bible’s view of anger and the solutions it provides.

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Powlison begins by noting, “Anger needs to be acknowledged and expressed in a positive way, as a form of doing what is good and right.” We become angry when something is important to us and when we believe that something is wrong. Therefore, anger in and of itself is not bad. But, the problem is when we get angry about things that we should not get angry about. Anger can also go wrong when the thing we think is important becomes more important to us than God himself. Anger can also be a problem when we “respond to a true wrong in the wrong way.”

The solution to our anger problems begin with believing  God is in charge and thus the judge. This solution is not about superficial techniques and strategies, but about genuinely believing gospel truths. This enables us to make our anger redemptive. God sent his son to die to make right what was wrong. In a similar way we can bear the burden of a wrong and forgive the wrongdoer. Gospel approaches to anger lead to constructive responses. Powlison explains that applying the gospel to our anger leads to patience, mercy, forgiveness, and honesty.

What I find most helpful about Powilson’s booklet is his practical tool to express anger constructively. In short, he calls angry people to go to God for help. When we are angry he tells us to ask ourselves four questions. First, “What is happening around me when I get angry?” This question helps us understand the heart of our anger. Second, “How do I act when I get angry?” This step is also about understanding the nature of our anger especially how we express it in sinful ways. Third, “What were my expectations (what did I want, need, demand) when I became angry?” This question leads us to discover how we are playing God in the situation. Fourth, “What message does God, in his Word, have for me that will speak to my anger?” This drives us to the Bible to find solutions. Finally, Powlison calls angry people to ask God for help. He reminds us that God loves us and desires to change us.

I recommend this booklet as a first step for those struggling with anger. If you struggle with anger, God is loving enough and powerful enough to help. Go to him!

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Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: “Overcoming Anxiety: Relief for Worried People” by David Powlison

Powlison’s booklet is the best starting point for people trying to understand their anxiety. It is published by New Growth Press, is only 16 pages, and can be downloaded to Kindle. The booklet is a readable summary of the problem of anxiety as well as how the gospel is the solution.

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He begins by explaining there is “a right kind of anxiety that leads us to express loving concern for others in the midst of their trouble.” There are also a number of valid reasons to be anxious. However, anxiety can become a problem, even sinful, when we overreact to legitimate problems and become too upset about troubles. Powlison summarizes, “In every situation where you feel sinfully anxious, you believe something is threatening your world. Your world feels out of control; you are afraid something bad might happen; and you are trying to control your world to keep bad things from taking place.”

Faith in God is the solution when we are anxious. Powilson explains, “When we lose sight of God, we try to control our world on our own, and become filled with worry.” But, the solution is that “God wants us to know him so intimately and trust him so completely that our desire to fix our troubles in our own way will no longer consume us.” A helpful verse when we are anxious is Psalm 94:19, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul.”

Powilson then takes the reader to Philippians 4:5-7 in order to highlight some key truths to believe when we are anxious. First, the Lord is near (Philippians 4:5). He explains, “When you know that Jesus is near, the worried, obsessed, sinful anxiety dissipates.” Second, the Lord is listening (Philippians 4:6). Third, the Lord is guarding you with his peace (Philippians 4:7). Believing these truths leads to the opposite of anxiety which is contentment.

Powlison closes with some practical tips including making your request known to God, parking your mind on what you know is true, tackling the real problem the right way, and understanding your anxiety attacks. He also addresses the question of whether people should take medication when they are anxious. He explains that anxiety medication alleviates symptoms, but does not address the underlying problem. This does not mean he advocates not taking the medicine because they can help someone calm down. However, medicine should not replace “the hard work of learning to trust God and depend upon him.”

If you are struggling with anxiety, grab Powilson’s booklet and hear his closing encouragement, “Take a step of faith, and decide today to go to God with your anxiety. He will not disappoint you.”

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Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: “Help! I Get Panic Attacks” by Lucy Ann Moll

If you struggle with panic attacks Lucy Ann Moll’s mini book is a great place to start on your journey of discovering how the gospel helps you. This is only 64 pages and can be read in a couple of evenings. She does a great job of providing biblical counsel, but also acknowledges the place of medicine.

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Over four chapters she shares her own journey with panic attacks, but also some biblical ways to think about being overcome with fear as well as some gospel solutions and practical tips. From experience she boldly proclaims, “God can also use your panic attacks for good.”

In the first chapter she explains a panic attack as “an extreme fear experience which is out of proportion to the actual situation.” She acknowledges healthy fear, but puts panic attacks in the category of unhealthy fears. She also addresses the physical symptoms of panic attacks as well as how they can be treated. Moll provides a healthy discussion on the role medicine does and does not play in addressing panic attacks.

In the second chapter she links the Bible’s treatment of terror with our understanding of panic attacks. I think this is a fair link, however this is one of the challenges for Christians. We cannot always make these types of links and we should always strive for a biblical understanding of our problems.

The third chapter focuses on how we can move from fearful to faithful. This is how the gospel is the solution to panic attacks. After looking at a number of biblical examples she concludes that each of these people “focused on their circumstances rather than on God’s power and care.” This comment is the problem that causes panic attacks. She goes further to explain the “root of ungodly fear is belief in a lie.” We need to face the lies we are believing.

In the fourth chapter she explains the ultimate solution as fearing God alone. Battling against panic attacks requires us to watch our thoughts, change our thoughts, and then put off fear by putting on faith. In her fourth chapter she provides a helpful tool she calls the Fear-to-Faith Template. She also closes the read with some practical projects to help us turn our fear to faith.

Again, I think reading this mini book is a great first step for anyone struggling with panic attacks. She provides biblical counsel, provides a balanced holistic approach, and gives the reader practical tips and projects to turn fear into faith.

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Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: Depression: The Way Up When You’re Feeling Down

Many of us have been haunted by depression. The first resource I recommend someone struggling with depression is Ed Welch’s booklet. It is only 32 pages and thus can be read in one day. Even though it is short, it gets to the heart of the problem of depression as well as providing gospel solutions and practical tips on how to fight when depressed.

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Welch begins by explaining how depression is ultimately a spiritual problem. He argues “Depression reveals us, not just the chemical composition of our brain,” (27). When we are depressed we can’t trust our feelings. Many times we don’t feel like doing anything. When we are numb we are to “learn another way to live,” (4). The new way of living is to “believe and act on what God says rather than feel what God says. It is living by faith,” (4). When we are depressed and debating what our feelings are saying and what Scriptures says, Welch explains that “Scripture wins,” (4).

Next, Welch asks, “What is your depression saying?” and “What does it mean?” He acknowledges that our feelings teach us about our perceptions of our circumstances. Exploring our feelings can teach us that we are afraid or ashamed or angry. Hunting why we are depressed should reveal what is wrong with our heart. Ultimately we are to identify what is wrong and grow by trusting the Lord. Maybe we have made an idol out of something and he is calling us to trust him while not obtaining what we want. Ultimately we are to faithfully respond, “I know that my Redeemer is with me, and I will humbly wait for his deliverance,” (17).

Exploring the condition of our heart leads us down a path asking a series of “why” questions.  However, Welch explains that we should follow the path that leads to God if we want to come up out of depression. The more we can look at the “whys” of our depression through a gospel lens, the more accurately we can diagnose the condition of our hearts and find hope in Jesus. He explains, “If you think about what your depression is saying and it takes you all the way to your relationship with Christ, then don’t stop on that journey until you have heard something good,” (20). Welch also comments, “Remember that if you have put your faith in Jesus, you are forgiven, adopted, beloved, and delighted in. You must start thinking the way God thinks, not the way you think,” (20).

Welch closes with eleven practical tips on how to battle depression as well as a charge to not give up. I particularly like the sixth tip: “Each day, speak or write something that can be an encouragement to others. You have a calling. There are people to love, to care for, to help,” (20). I also appreciate the eight tip: “Keep a sharp eye out for grumbling and complaining,” (20). Welch acknowledges, “Depression is hard. No matter what its origin, it doesn’t leave without a fight. But don’t be discouraged. There are good reasons to enter into the fight. Changes are guaranteed (Phil. 1:6),” (23).

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Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

Contemporary culture has a plurality of opinions of how to view human identity. For some, self-esteem is the ultimate virtue to achieve. The spirituality of many is that if they could only have a higher view of themselves then they would be happy. However, the Bible has better news. Tim Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” is important because a wrong view of personal identity is leading to wasted unhappy lives.

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Keller’s work is a booklet made up of 46 short pages and three chapters. It can be read in a lunch hour. He opens by asking, “What are the marks of a heart that has been radically changed by the grace of God?” (5). Next, Keller unpacks 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7. He explains that different than most cultures throughout history “Our belief today – and it is deeply rooted in everything – is that people misbehave for lack of self-esteem and because they have too low a view of themselves” (10).

Regarding the problem of our natural condition he says, “Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God,” (15). The solution is to avoid the trap of seeking self-esteem by other people’s standards. Rather, “Paul is saying something astounding, ‘I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what I think,’” (31). The result is not needing to think too much or too highly about ourselves. Keller says, “A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person,” (33). The way to live this way is to allow the verdict of the gospel to lead our performance versus the other way around. In other words, “Self-forgetfulness takes you out of the courtroom. The trial is over,” (43). Joy is found through living according to our gospel convictions. Joy is found through gospel-humility. Joy is neither found in self-hating or self-loving, but rather self-forgetting.

This is a tremendous read for anyone struggling with depression. Counseling is a very helpful process, but as people delve deep into heart issues there can be a tendency to become self-absorbed. This process can rob our joy because our eyes are too much on ourselves. His booklet is also helpful for those believing the flesh and the world about where to find happiness. Giving ourselves over to our sinful desires does not lead to joy. Keller’s booklet is a reminder we all need that self-forgetfulness rather than self-esteem is the pathway to joy.

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Bible, Church, Gospel Spirituality, Preaching

Thankful for R.C. Sproul

Yesterday an evangelical giant went to be with the Lord. Like many in my generation who have sought faithfulness to the Scriptures, yet also needed substantive answers to genuine questions, as well as longed for a passionate spirituality I found refreshing water in the teaching of R.C. Sproul.

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My first experience with Dr. Sproul was through the book “Holiness of God.” As a young man struggling with youthful sins his book was a needed weight that buckled my sinful flesh under the gravity and majesty of God’s holiness (Exodus 33:19-23). I not only heard God’s call to righteousness (Leviticus 11:44) but also saw its beauty (Isaiah 6:1). Last year our small group leaders used to classic book to apply God’s holiness to our church’s spirituality.

From that book I have spent years digging through Ligonier’s exhaustive catalogue on topics ranging from the Bible to theology to apologetics to church history and to the spiritual life. There were times when I was struggling to find answers to questions in my church, but found them in the ministry of R.C. Sproul. Many in my generation were marked by the cynicism of grunge music, but then found hope in substantive ministries like Ligonier.

Now that I am teaching every week I find my research leads me over and over again to articles and sermons founds at Ligonier.org. The content is always faithful to the text, accessible, and and insightful. The videos, sermons, articles, and lectures on that site are a lasting gift to the church.

When my soul was weak I found strength in R.C. Sproul’s teaching. When my mind was troubled I found truth in R.C. Sproul’s exposition of the Bible. When much of the teaching in our churches was shallow and running from doctrine, we found the beauty of a sovereign gracious God through the ministry of R.C. Sproul.  Today he is experiencing his reward of dwelling with God while singing with the saints, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). Well done good and faithful servant.

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Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living

Bring Hope to Your Hopeless City

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:14)

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Ronald Reagan described America as a city on a hill because it is the hope of immigrants from for a better life. Do you remember the second Godfather film? There is a great scene after young Vito Corleone flees Italy. He comes through Ellis Island yet must be quarantined due to an illness. His little hospital room faces the Statue of Liberty. The sick little boy sits in his room looking at Lady Liberty and begins to sing a hopeful little Italian tune. Even in his sickness he was hopeful that America would provide him a better life. Lady Liberty was lighting the way!

 

A city on a hill is distinct from those below it. Further, its height communicates superiority in some way. The city above is better than the city below. But, how does the city above relate to the city below? The city above is a hopeful symbol to those below by beckoning them to something superior. Jesus is saying the city on a hill is a symbol of hope. The Statue of Liberty is about hope. Likewise, the church is to be a symbol of hope to the hopeless around us.

 

Our marriages don’t have to be perfect, but they should provide hope for the marriages around us. Our parenting doesn’t have to be perfect, but we should be able to give hopeful advice about how to do it according to the Bible. As employees we should provide a hopeful way forward by being more ethical and Christ-like than others in our office. Christians and the Church are to be symbols of hope for a hopeless world.

 

The gospel is the key to this hope. The gospel is how marriages parents and employees become symbols of hope. Couples dads and middle-managers should strive toward clean righteous living. They should carry out their duties with excellence and transparency and grace. Living according to the Law is a blessing and gives others hope. However, husbands mommies and clerks are all going to blow it. Yet, the good news of the gospel is that God forgives and restores bad husbands lazy parents and dishonest salesmen. As we transparently confess our sins to God we are also able to openly acknowledge our failings to others. We can walk in this freedom because God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Living according to the gospel, especially when we fail, gives hope to those around us. Living according to the gospel enables us to be a city set on a hill! Neither unattainable perfection nor phony religion is going to bring hope to our city. Rather, walking in the light when we blow it highlights our hope on the gospel. Walking in the gospel is how we bring hope to our city.

 

Is there a part of your life you are keeping in the dark? Is there a failing that you are refusing to confess to the Lord or others? Have you blown it and now want to quit due to the condemnation you feel? Believe the gospel to the degree of bringing sin to the light. Bring hope to those around you by radically believing the gospel…especially when you fail!

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Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Jesus is Deeper Still

Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

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Jesus is a lot of things. He is a King who sees into the future gives us direction on the way we should go. Jesus gives us order. He is also a Prophet who knows what is best and gives us teachings on how we should live. Jesus gives us the truth. But, he is also a Priest comforting us when we are in pain, giving us the right emotions and feelings when we need them.

 

 

The first glorious implication of God being with us is that when we are suffering through pain…we have a Jesus that will comfort us. We don’t just have a King who will bark orders at us, or a Prophet who will scream sermons at us, but a Priest who will sympathize with us and comfort our hurting souls.

 

When we are hurting, Jesus loves us to the degree that he will feel our pain with us. Jesus will identify with your situation when you are struggling. Please hear me, when you are in pain, Jesus feels compassion for you. Immanuel-Jesus is a co-sufferer with you.

 

 

But we don’t naturally believe this when we are in the middle of a painful moment. We don’t instinctively believe God is with us and for us and will comfort us when we suffer pain. This is the great act of faith through pain. Believing he is with us is the first step of surviving pain. Believing he will comfort us is how you not only survive but also mature through pain. At our weakest moments if we look up to him for aid he receives the glory. When we confess our need of him, he becomes the hero. We need him to survive pain.

 

 

Betsie ten Boom suffered through many painful moments in her life. She lost her mother while she was a child and lived with her father and siblings in Amsterdam. Many of you might have read of her family in her sister’s book titled “The Hiding Place.” The ten Booms’ were devout Christians and had a history of serving those in need in their community. When the Nazi’s invaded they converted a portion of one of their bedrooms into a hiding place for Jews fleeing for their lives. Eventually they were discovered and send to prison. Ten days after arriving in prison Betsie’s father died. Betsie and her sister Corrie were later sent to a concentration camp. Sadly Betsie’s struggles continued and she died in the Nazi concentration camp. Before Betsie passed her sister reports that she taught her, “there is no pit so deep that god is not deeper still.”

 

 

Do you believe that? Do you believe that in your deepest pains? Do you believe in your darkest moments, God will be right there pouring out compassion on top of your soul and thus seeing you through those sorrows?

 

 

But how? How does Priest Jesus comfort us in pain? Hebrews 4:16 teaches us to “draw near” to him in order to receive his gracious and merciful comfort. Drawing near is the opposite of pushing away. What Hebrews is saying is that when we are in pain we are to go towards Jesus not away from him. We shouldn’t push him away, but draw closer to him.

 

 

If you want to survive and even thrive through pain, you will only be able to do it if you believe he will comfort you…believe to the point that you draw closer to him rather than push him away. Do you believe that he will comfort you? If so, believe to the point of drawing near to him.

 

 

Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). He is with us and for us. He is our comforting priest during seasons of pain. He will comfort you so draw closer to him rather than push him away.

 

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Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

The Spirit Empowers, Approves, and Anoints….Jesus

Acts 10:38 says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

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We tend to forget the role the Holy Spirit played in the life of Christ. Jesus “went about doing good” but it was attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit in his life. Therefore, the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus! The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was God, but it also explains that the Spirit was empowering him during his life and ministry.

The Spirit also had a sealing or approving role. Remember how Ephesians 1:13 teaches us that we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”? In Acts 10:38, the Holy Spirit was similarly putting his stamp of approval on Christ. Darrell Bock says that the Holy Spirit was revealing his choice, much like a “political party puts its stamp on a presidential candidate, so here God has shown who will accomplish his plan” (Bock, 345).

This also leads to Jesus’ commentary about his relationship with the Holy Spirit. When he was at the beginning of his ministry he went into a synagogue and read from Isaiah 61 saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). The Holy Spirit is the one who was upon Jesus. The Holy Spirit was the one blessing and anointing him for the task at hand. He was validating his office and role, his person and his ministry.

The Holy Spirit related to Jesus by empowering anointing and approving Christ! In short, the Holy Spirit exalts Christ. The Holy Spirit empowered all his gospel works, put his stamp of approval on Jesus’ atoning work, and anointed and blessed Jesus as our Savior!

We tend to forgot about how active the Holy Spirit was in the life of Jesus. But here is the really good news for you and me…that same Holy Spirit is promised you at your conversion. That same Holy Spirit is working in you today to also exalt Christ. The Holy Spirit is our “helper” (John 14:16), but he was also Jesus’ helper.

We have seen the result of his work in the life of Jesus, which gives us hope that we can also walk in faithfulness. We have the same power tool that Jesus possessed!

Do some heart work today. What area of our life is not aligned to the desires of the Holy Spirit? In what ways are you seeking to do things in your own moral strength rather than in the power of the Holy Spirit? Following Jesus’ example, yield to the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life today.

 

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Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Sola Christus: Our Source for Life

Existentialism is a failure! It is absurd to believe that life has no meaning except what we give it. If we chase the belief that everything is meaningless then we are left with our own futility. The great test of this truth is when we assume something will lead us to joy, yet it leaves us lacking. The gospel teaches us that salvation is not found through looking within, but looking outside of ourselves. We need something outside of ourselves to guide us to joy. We need a Word from God. We need Sola Scriptura.

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If Scripture is our guide, where does Scripture lead us? Christ is the unifying theme of the Bible! The Old Testament looks forward predicting Him, while the New Testament looks back prescribing Him. The Reformers rightly understood Jesus as the solution to our primary problem, Jesus Christ is our Savior from sin.

 

This claim is not initially the Reformers or the Early Church Fathers or even the Apostles, Jesus Himself claims to be our Savior from sin. If the brokenness of this world has broken you, Jesus invites you to come to Him and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). If your soul is weary and dry, He invites you to come to Him and find “rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

 

Those of us who have functioned as existentialists know that all the things we sought in order to find rest and life all proved futile. It is a lie to believe sex and money and esteem and good health and knowledge and toys and popularity will bring you lasting rest and life. We don’t need make-overs and more stuff, we need forgiveness and transformation. We need a Savior!

 

The reason Jesus is our rest and life is because He is our Savior from sin. When the angel appeared to Joseph he summarized the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation as to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus did not come primarily as an example, but a Savior from sin. Jesus taught us in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus views Himself as more than a good teacher, but as the payment for sin. Further, this isn’t horrific child abuse but the height of loving service. Paul also taught this truth in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus was sinless, but took on sin in order to defeat sin, which moves believers from the category of guilty to justified. Peter also emphasized Jesus as our Savior in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Jesus saves us from our sins in order to make us right with God!

 

Further, the Bible is clear that Jesus is our only Savior. Jesus is explicitly exclusive! He said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” One can argue that all religious roads lead to the same place, but to make that argument, they are concluding that Jesus is a liar. Jesus is our Savior from sin, and Jesus is the only Savior.

 

These truths about Jesus are the primary message of the Bible, but the Reformers purified the church of false teaching. Protestants understand that our salvation is through Christ alone, but the mechanics of this salvation is that Jesus imputes righteousness to us rather than infuses righteousness within us. Jesus saving us from our sins doesn’t mean we never sin again, rather it means we have moved from a guilty category to a justified category. For example, God says that He reckoned Abraham righteous (Genesis 15:6). However, after this credit of righteousness, Abraham still committed some pretty scandalous sins. Thus, we can conclude that God did not, like a surgeon, make his inner man perfectly righteous. Rather, like a judge, God declares believers righteous through Christ alone.

 

There is no other way to find salvation and thus rest and life than through Christ alone! What a glorious truth! What a wonderful thing to celebrate! What should we do with this truth?

 

First, referring to Jesus, Paul wrote “him we proclaim” (Colossians 1:28). If we find salvation through Christ alone, then we should shout this news to anyone who will listen! Martin Luther said the church is to be a “mouth house.” We are to use objectively understandable words to communicate that salvation is only found in Jesus. This charge is foundational to what it means to be a Christian. If you have been saved through Christ alone, you have the privilege and responsibility to announce Jesus to others.  Proclaim Jesus!

 

Second, the ancient Psalmist sang, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Salvation from your sins comes through Christ alone. Lasting rest comes through Christ alone. Abundant life comes through Christ alone. Thus, take refuge in Him and then experience His goodness. Taste that Jesus is good! Our Reformer fathers taught us that the world is futile, but everlasting abundant life is found in Christ alone!

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