War is Over. Now the Battle Begins.

How do you know God loves you, really? When life and everything around you gives evidence of sin and suffering, what basis do we really have for continuing on?

This past week at Christ Church Mansfield, I endeavored to show from Romans 5:1-11 that there is a way to break through without breaking down in the midst of our sin and suffering, our chaos and catastrophes, or our flaws and failures.

It’s only by gaining gospel resiliency by looking ahead, looking around, and looking back, that we can have confidence to keep moving forward, knowing that with God, the war is over. Now we can fight the battle of living by faith.

Here are six practical signs that you actually are rejoicing in the gospel, even in the midst of sin and suffering:

  1. Regularly meditate and enjoy the Gospel. You study God’s Word in such a way as to better see (understand) and savor (enjoy) who God is and what He has done for you. Over the years, I have found it helpful to have a plan for reading through and studying the Bible. I even put together a sample plan for our church, which you can download here if you’d like. But there are some great reading plans available elsewhere: YouVersion, He Reads Truth or She Reads Truth, as well as the ESV Bible app. Another great resource to help you navigate the Bible with a “gospel lens” is the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible
  2. Interpret and process your life through the lens of the Gospel. What is most true of you is not your feelings, emotions, reactions, or circumstances of your life, but rather the Word of God regarding you in light of the Gospel. When you mess up (and you will), or when “life” happens to you (which it will), start to process it all not by saying, “What a mess I made there. How could God love me?” but “God loves me, despite me. Despite my flaws and failings, despite my record, yes, even now, God still loves me. I am far worse than I think, but also more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope!” That’s the beauty of the Gospel!
  3. Repent of Sin and Walk in Newness of Life. Sin is both the bad things you do (commission) and good things you don’t do (omission), but, and perhaps, more disturbingly,  anything other than God you boast in. We can make a “mini god” out of anything, and more times than not, we make one in our image and likeness. We are to repent of that tendency to find value, worth, significance and strength in anything we can do or make for ourselves, and instead, willingly and joyfully strive after obedience (“newness of life”), out of love and gratitude, not guilt or fear. Don’t doubt God’s love when you discover more character flaws – draw closer to Him! Remember the two aspects of the gospel: You are worse off than you think, but more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope! (In case you are wondering, yes, the repetition is purposeful. The Gospel leaks out of us, so we have to, in the words of Martin Luther, beat it back in there continually!) Here are some great resources that have helped me get this over the years:
    1. Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller
    2. Repentance  by C. John Miller
    3. How People Change by Paul Tripp and Tim Lane
    4. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by G.K. Beale
  4. Stop Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands. When we sin, or when we suffer, the tendency is to “do something about it”. Miroslav Volf paints the picture vividly in his masterful book, Exclusion and Embrace when he says that our instincts when we have been hurt, harmed, or wronged is to reach either for a shield (self-protection) or sword (others’-destruction). Instead, we are to let the open arms of the God-man, Jesus Christ, on the cross welcome us “in” to the happy life of God Himself. Don’t quiet your conscience when you’ve messed up, discover you’re a wreck, and rediscover that you are a failure with reference to your performance or your circumstances. Hold tightly to God’s love for you in the Gospel, even as you let go and stop clinging to your own performance, record, or anything you can do to take matters into your own hands.
  5. Embrace Self-Forgetfulness When Faced with Criticism. Take criticism well, letting it illumine and inform the areas of your life where you can repent and live out a new obedience. (And yes, that is another reference to a Tim Keller book that has had a huge impact on me in regards to this – right now it’s $1.99 on Kindle, or $4.69 in paperback).
  6. Worship Your Way Through It. The only way we can break through without breaking down is by focusing your eyes on Jesus. See and savor Him as your highest, greatest, and most enjoyable reward. Nothing – not even death, let alone failure, fear or frustration – can intimidate you out of holding onto Jesus above all else. Sing with the saints:

Look and see our God

And celebrate the power of the cross

And the empty grave

And now we’re free

Let the Redeemed

Lift up your heads

O look and see our God!

(“Look and See” by The Village Church)

How Grace Works

There’s a reason why God has to save anyone by grace, and grace alone, and not anything we can do.

The apostle Paul uses two “heroes” from the OT to prove this point in Romans 4, Abraham and David. He shows through their lives that even they were made right – justified – through God’s act of grace, not their efforts and achievements. They lived by faith and stood on grace, because only God can “make beauty out of ugly things” (U2), or in Paul’s words, “God justifies the ungodly.”

The good news of the gospel is that grace and life comes to screw-ups and failures. In other words, God justifies the wicked, not the winsome; the ungodly, not the unblemished

Quotable/Tweetable Thoughts

“God justifies the wicked, not the winsome; the ungodly, not the unblemished.” – Chris Gensheer

“Not only am I completely incapable of making God love me more, I’m equally incapable of making him love me less.” – Scotty Smith

“An idol is pursuing something you want, but don’t possess; your boast is holding on to something you have, but don’t want to lose.” – Chris Gensheer

“To “credit” righteousness is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.” – Chris Gensheer

“I’m much more interested in grace because I’m really depending on it.” – Bono

“Grace makes beauty our of ugly things.” – Bono

Christ Church Mansfield exists to love God, connect people, serve the city, and reach the world with the transforming power of the Gospel in Mansfield, Arlington, Midlothian, Burleson, Cedar Hill, Fort Worth and Dallas TX, and beyond.

Member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the Southwest Church Planting Network, and The Gospel Coalition.

Skeptics, curious, misfits, and mavericks welcome!

For more go to http://www.christchurchmansfield.com

Refrigerators, Romans 4 and Preaching to My Own Heart as a Parent

 27994_Hanging_heart

Recently, while preparing to preach on Romans 4 at Christ Church Mansfield, I came to this verse and had a new found sense of awe and wonder at the gospel:

“Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:3b (quoting Genesis 15:6)

This word, “counted” (or in the NIV, “credited”) is a financial term, used in accounting. It means to calculate, sum up, to “do the math” and see what’s there. 

If you’ve ever received a credit, you know it was something “put there” by another.  Just think about the way bank overdraft fees work.  You over spent and under saved, and now you have a DEBIT or OVERDRAFT to your account. But in the event that you receive more money, your account receives SUFFICIENT funds status and is “in the black”, or “right” again. But if it’s the bank that gives it to you, it’s a CREDIT to your account.

To “credit” righteousness is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.

But that doesn’t necessarily resonate with me. I’m not an accountant, and while I appreciate receiving into my bank account, there was another way of thinking about this that struck me as more significant.

Let me explain.

As a parent I have the wonderful privilege of receiving all kinds of “art” projects form my children. The one’s that are especially meaningful are the ones where my children try to depict our family, or me in particular.

Now if you were to come over and look at our refrigerator and all you see are a bunch of explosions of crayons, markers, and glitter glue, you would say, “Uh, that’s interesting.”

But to me, that fridge is the Kimball Art Museum and those are masterpieces of beauty!

You see a wreck; I see a work of art.

Why? Why hasn’t “family art projects” become an installation somewhere in the world?

Because “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

To you, they’re a mess.

But to the father, they’re credited to the child as Masterpiece.

And this is a picture of the gospel.

If you’ve ever received a credit, you know it was something “put there” by another. To “credit” something is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.

Just like Abraham, we, in faith, receive from God the Father not merely forgiveness, but righteousness and justification — the state and process of being “good” and “in the right” again. Not because we are so special, but because He is.

It is because of His sheer act and work of grace that we are brought into the family of God.

Our mess becomes a Masterpiece in His eyes and His hands alone. This is the essence of grace, and like the man sang:

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things. – Bono

Or before U2, there was this:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

– Psalm 51:7-12 (ESV)

“Grace” by U2 (unofficial video)

A Way to Be Good and Right Again

Two weeks ago, I preached and unpacked Romans 3:19-31and the two greatest words possibly in all the Bible, but definitely in Romans so far:

But now.

One secular writer has said that “… the problem with justifying my own existence…is not that I’m such a bad person, but that I could be, and that I should far better than I really am.” In Romans 1-2, Paul has established that every single person does understand – through conscience – that they ought to be living in a certain way, and yet no one does it. Everyone is struggling for righteousness, and no one is getting it.

This is where we get the two greatest words in the Bible, “but now”. But now in the Gospel there is a new reality, a new possibility, a new way to be righteous, to be “good again” (Kite Runner).

The “but now” of the gospel is more than mere forgiveness, it’s justification. Instead of saying, “You may go”, justification says, “You may come!”

The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this:

60. Q. How are you righteous before God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.

Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, of never having kept any of them, and of still being inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without any merit of my own, out of sheer grace,God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, and as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me.

All I need to do is accept this gift with a believing heart.

This is the essence of faith in Christ.

Part of the sermon series Romans: Unlocking the Gospel | Unleashing the Power  at Christ Church Mansfield, from Lead Pastor Chris Gensheer. For more content or to know more about the ministry of Christ Church, go to http://www.christchurchmansfield.com.

Sin Can’t Have a Green Card

ImageAs I’m working through the book of Romans with a group of great guys at Christ Church Santa Fe, I am struck by how often the questions of the role of sin in the Christian life come up.  This question makes sense and comes up in the book of Romans in chapter 6, but it’s at least in the background throughout the whole book.  We are utilizing a study guide put together by Tim Keller and Redeemer Church New York, and it is a great tool for our study, but still, this question lingers.

One way I have found helpful in answering this question is by using a “green card” analogy.  Here’s what I mean:

Because of your union with Christ, sin can’t have a green card in your life. It can’t claim citizenship (status), nor should it apply for permanent residence (progress).  In union with Christ, what is true of Him, is true (justification) and will be true (glorification) of you as well.

“There is no inconsistency or incoherency in the teaching of the NT about…”

Quote

“There is no inconsistency or incoherence in the teaching of the New Testament about, on the one hand, the offer of Christ in the gospel, which Christians are told to make known everywhere, and, on the other hand, the fact that Christ achieved a totally efficacious redemption for God’s elect on the cross.

It is a certain truth that all who come to Christ in faith will find mercy (John 6:35, 47–51, 54–57; Rom. 1:16; 10:8–13). The elect hear Christ’s offer, and through hearing it are effectually called by the Holy Spirit. Both the invitation and the effectual calling flow from Christ’s sin-bearing death. Those who reject the offer of Christ do so of their own free will (i.e., because they choose to, Mat 22:1–7; John 3:18), so that their final perishing is their own fault. Those who receive Christ learn to thank him for the cross as the centerpiece of God’s plan of sovereign saving grace.”

J. I. Packer, Concise Theology

Or…any other day too!

Every Monday (and every other Friday), I have the joy of meeting with a group of men to read, study and get into the habit of applying the Bible to our lives.  We’ve been working through Romans, and it has been a great time with these men. I found this quote today and think it may be helpful in light of our discussion on How Justification Works in Romans 5:1-11.