Abundant Grace: Big Problems Demand Bigger Solutions

When you have a big problem, you need an even bigger solution. At the end of the basketball season my senior year of high school, I tore a ligament in my right foot. It was a really small injury, but the consequences were devastating. Two weeks before our District Tournament, I could barely walk from my bed to the bathroom. The easy solution was surgery. A couple months after surgery, I would be as good as new. But that solution didn’t solve the biggest problem I had. I wanted to play in the postseason.

I visited a physical therapist who had a crazy idea. He believed he could create an insert for my shoe that would relieve pressure from one side of my foot allowing me to play, as long as I could endure the pain. Was it the safest solution? Probably not. But I would have done anything to play for championships. In the end, he successfully created an insert that allowed me to play. There was no way I should have been able to play in two weeks, but his solution was far greater than my problem.

Our condition before God in sin is a major problem. Not only are we guilty of sin because of our union with Adam, but we commit millions of sins in our lifetime. It makes total sense for us to receive judgment from God because of even one sin. But in Christ we receive a gift of righteousness credited to our account despite the mountain of sin we have recorded. This is grace unimaginable. One writer said God’s grace in the gospel is a “miracle of miracles, utterly beyond human comprehension.”

The law increases the seriousness of our sin, but “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Sin leads to condemnation and death. Christ sets us free from the chains of sin and death by taking our sin and giving us his righteousness. We are declared righteous before God because of the work of Christ in our place. God’s grace is far greater than his judgment. His judgment followed only one sin. Yet after countless sins, his grace still overflowed in Christ. Problem. Solved.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their sons, Jude and Jack. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.


The Shock of Sin and Grace in the Life of a Leader

pexels-photo-26691It’s always difficult to see someone you really respect fall deep into sin. Even the slightest accusation of moral failure in someone you respect changes the way you look at them forever. When we see crucial authority figures in our lives fall into sin, we struggle to trust not only that person, but that position in the future. If you catch one of your parents having an affair, you will struggle to ever trust them again. And you will also have a negative view of marriage, which likely means it will affect your own marriage if unchecked. If you hear about your pastor, teacher, or coach indulging in sin, your trust in them and their position will be shaken. It is so hard to think about people you respect sinning so deeply. It’s one thing to know we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), but it’s quite another to see sin creep out of the hearts of those we most respect.

I think about popular pastors who have recently been relieved of pastoral duties due to moral or leadership failures. There was a literal shockwave that ran through my social media feeds when Darrin Patrick and Perry Noble were outed for deep, latent sin in their lives and ministries. In our celebrity pastor culture, it is easy to forget that even the most charismatic leader is not immune to sin. I have lamented the number of times I’ve seen “This doesn’t surprise me” or, “I told you so” in response to the meteoric fall of evangelical leaders like Driscoll, Tchividjian, Patrick, Noble, and others. There is no place in the church for this kind of proud posturing. The shock of sin has drastic immediate and long-term effects on a church when one of her leaders falls.

I believe the life of David is a testament to the shock of sin and grace in the life of a leader. There are many lessons to be learned from David’s fall into sin, but two that help us when leaders in our lives sin revolve around the shock and awe of sin and grace.

David was a man after God’s heart and handpicked by the Lord to lead Israel as king. God even promised that David’s kingly line would culminate in a kingdom that would never end. One day, a Davidic King would sit on his throne and never give it up. David was righteous and desired to obey the Lord. But, David surprised his own people and even us by falling into a deep spiral of sin. He fell for a woman who was not his wife, and was in fact someone else’s wife! Then, in an attempt to cover his sin, David had the woman’s (Bathsheba) husband (Uriah) killed. David gave in to temptation and brought everyone around him down with him. Failing to kill his sin led him to continue in his sin. Instead of confessing his sin and trusting God to cover it with his grace, David tried to cover his sin by killing another man.

Despite David’s shocking downward spiral into dark sin, God’s shows him tremendous mercy. When David was confronted with his sin by Nathan the prophet, he confessed his sin to God and received his compassion. David shares what this experience was like in Psalm 51. There are a couple things that do surprise us about David’s sin and God’s grace that really shouldn’t.

First, we are surprised that a man like David can sin the way he did. While we should expect to grow in Christlikeness throughout our Christian life, sin remains in our hearts until we die or Christ returns. Anyone is capable of dreadful sinful actions, because the dreaded enemy of sin has invaded the heart of every person. So, don’t be surprised when you or people you respect sin. Sin should always be unwanted, but it should never been unexpected.

It is a sign of either a healthy or deceived church when the people are shocked when a pastor falls into sin. It is healthy, in one sense, to be shocked at deep sin in the life of a pastor. Christians are on a path of righteousness. They are being conformed into the image of Christ. Day by day, sin is being rooted out of their hearts. However, sanctification isn’t an overnight process. It is a lifelong process. There are many battles–some won, others lost. But, we fight knowing the war has been won by Christ on the cross as he defeated the dominions of darkness and death. While we should expect sin to still be in the heart and life of ourselves and our leaders, our hearts should be broken and in one sense shocked by unrepentant sin in the life of leaders.

Second, we are surprised that God would show David such compassion in the midst of his deep and dark sin. But, we know the character of God. He is slow to anger and abounds in steadfast love (Ex. 34:6). We should never be surprised at God’s grace, but we should always be amazed by it. Learn from David’s sin and God’s grace that covering your own sin with more sin will never satisfy. However, trusting God’s grace in the cross of Christ to cover your sin will always satisfy.

As deep as sin goes in the human heart, the grace of God in the gospel goes even deeper. Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, Darrin Patrick, Perry Noble, and any other Christian leader who has fallen into deep sin has not exhausted the riches of God’s grace in Christ. The tank of God’s benevolence toward them isn’t on empty. It is as full as it has always been. And assuming these men are in Christ, there is a fountain of mercy and forgiveness for the mountain of sin they have allowed to grow.

The fall of leaders in our lives is devastating. It is detrimental to the influence of a local church and the Church as a whole. No one is helped when a pastor bullies his way to power, commits an affair, or launders money from the church fund. We should guard our hearts from the treacherous lure of sin, knowing that none of us are beyond a Davidic descent into a pit of sin. But we should always marvel at the grace of God, which he bestows on unworthy and fallen sinners like us. As devastating as the fall of broken leaders is, the restoration of repentant leaders by God’s grace is an incomparably sweet reality. Whenever you see a leader in your life fail morally and fall into sin, don’t point your fingers and shake your head in arrogant self-aggrandizement. Instead, bow your head in humble prayer that God would restore these men to himself and their people.

God pursues us in his grace like a relentless mother searching for her lost son at the mall. He will not rest until his children are found! And for those of us in Christ, he will bring to completion the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

Intimate Love, Costly Grace, Wondrous Holiness: Navigating a ‘Boring’ Passage

road-sky-sand-street.jpgJourneying through the book of Exodus can feel a lot like wandering in circles through the Sinai wilderness—it’s easy to get lost in the details. Exodus is an exciting and enjoyable book to read and study through at least the first 20 chapters. But the last half of the book is rarely read, studied, and preached—except for a few stories (Ex. 32-34). One of the reasons is that the book shifts from narrative to lengthy descriptions and commands. The last half of Exodus, particularly Exodus 28-31, are a little boring to the casual reader.

In Exodus 28, there is a seemingly endless list of specific descriptions and commands from the Lord as to how the priests’ garments were to be designed. An instructional tone continues in Exodus 29 as the Lord explains how the priests should be consecrated (set apart for service to the Lord). In Exodus 30 we see more instructions regarding the placement and purpose of tabernacle elements such as the altar of incense and the bronze basin. Exodus 31 reinforces Sabbath commands while Exodus 39 is a lengthy description of the Israelites obedience to the Lord in making the priests’ garments.

From a bird’s-eye view, Exodus 28-31 and 39 are all about God’s love, grace, holiness, and glory. True, this is a very broad and general statement that could nearly be true of every biblical text. But there is something unique about this section of the Exodus in how it relates to the rest of the Bible and even to you and I today. Exodus is all about God’s glory extending to the ends of the earth through his chosen people who possess his indwelling presence.

By God’s grace alone, he chose a people for himself and dwelled with them. The tabernacle was constructed as a means for God to live with his people. One of the most glaring realities communicated in Exodus 28-31 is that God demands and defines how he will be approached and worshiped. Because of our sin, approaching God on our terms will always prove disastrous. He is too holy for his people to just waltz into his presence whenever and however they so please. In the words of pastor Landon Dowden, “You don’t just stroll into God’s presence.” If Exodus 28-31 teaches us anything, it teaches us that it is incredibly costly to dwell peacefully with the living God.

Ultimately, Exodus 28-31 points to Christ, our great high priest, who makes “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). Only by being clothed with his righteousness can we fearlessly approach the throne of God (Heb. 4:14-16). The fact that we possess the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit every waking and sleeping moment of every day should leave us in awe of the work of Christ on our behalf.

I believe there are three important truths to draw from this often overlooked and seemingly obscure passage of Scripture.

1. God’s Love is Deeply Intimate

We see his deeply intimate love in the simple fact that he desires to live with us. Most of us are particularly careful in choosing who we live with. Whether in choosing a spouse, college roommate, or camp roommate, we don’t want to live with someone who will inevitably cause us harm. We choose who we live with based on their merits and their history with us. I’m so thankful God is not like us. He chooses to live with people who will inevitably cause him harm. He chooses to live with people who will deliberately turn their backs on him despite his unfailing goodness. It wouldn’t take long for the people with whom he has chosen to dwell to start worshiping a calf made out of gold. Yet, this God of deep, intimate love constantly pursues his people not based on their merits or history, but solely on the basis of his love.

2. God’s Grace is Costly

The only way for a God of infinite holiness and a people totally depraved with sin to live together is forgiveness. In any broken relationship, the party who is wronged must forgive the party who has wronged in order for the relationship to be restored. Well, the relationship between God and man is broken with a greater divide than any other relationship in history. Mending this relationship will require more than just blind acceptance. God would cease to be God if he allowed man into his presence without dealing with their sin. Grace and forgiveness that are in any way meaningful are always costly. And they are costly to the one showing grace and offering forgiveness.

The sacrificial blood-bath in Exodus 29 is not for the sake of religious rituals. These sacrifices are necessary for the possibility of forgiveness. And they point to the ultimate sacrifice, the divine sacrifice where the God who owns heaven and earth takes the greatest loss by sending his Son to bear his wrath against sin. God’s grace is indeed costly. But it is costly to himself. Oh, the lengths and depths of God’s grace!

3. God’s Holiness is Wondrous

Being overwhelmed by the mountain of details in Exodus 28-31 isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They speak to the wonder of God’s holiness. Remember, you can’t just waltz into God’s presence however and whenever you like. So, the details aren’t ritualistic. They aren’t for the sake of information overload. They are a testament to the grandeur and wonder of God’s holiness. One of the more sanctifying things you can do is meditate on God’s holiness or otherness. Just how different is he from you?

In all honesty, Exodus 28-31, and really much of the last 20 chapters of Exodus, is difficult to read. It is easy to miss the importance, meaning, and significance of these chapters. It is easy to get lost in the details. However, with the right lens, we will be able to see not only the importance of these chapters as inspired Scripture, but we will be able to see the deeply intimate nature of God’s love, the costly nature of God’s grace, and the wondrous nature of God’s holiness.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

But I Can’t Swim: Man’s Total Inability and God’s Relentless Grace

3m sprungbrett / 3m diving board - spring board

The following is an illustration and brief lesson I’ve taught to children in various settings and occasions. I am posting it here for two reasons. First, I hope it will serve as an encouragement in the gospel for those of you still depending on your own moral effort for your standing with God. Second, I hope this short article will serve as an example for children’s pastors and volunteers who teach children the gospel, as well as parents who teach their children the gospel in the home.

Imagine you are at a swimming pool this summer. Your mom has told you to stay near the shallow end of the pool, but you really want to jump in the deep end of the pool. When your mom is reading her book, you get out of the shallow end and tip-toe down the side of the pool toward the deep end. You glance over your shoulder to make sure your mom isn’t looking, so you can do an awesome cannonball in the deep end. But as you turn around, you slip and fall in the deep end.

You try to swim to the top, but you can’t. You can’t see. It is dark. You are alone. And you are afraid. You just spin around waving your arms and kicking your legs trying to get back to the surface of the water. But on your own, you can’t make it. The next thing you know, you feel someone wrap their arms around you. They pull you as they swim hard. Before you can think you are above the water taking a deep breathe. When you are able to open your eyes, you see that your mom is holding you. When you were nearly dead, your mom saved you. You did nothing. She did everything.

The same is true of our salvation from sin and spiritual death. We have seen this week that without Christ we are dead in sin and doomed under God’s wrath. Since we are dead, we can’t do anything about our condition. But then we saw the good news of the gospel; that God stepped in to make us alive by sending Jesus to die for our sins. Salvation is a gift that is only God’s to give. We are drowning in the pool of our sin. In Jesus, God jumps in to save us.

This salvation is all of grace. Grace is a word that means God gives us what we do not deserve (v. 8). Salvation is a gift, not a reward. We are not given eternal life because we deserve it. We are not allowed into the joyful presence of God because we are awesome people. We are saved from the penalty of sin because of God’s grace. We are saved by grace to live with God forever. All we must do is receive it as a gift. This is what we call “faith.” Faith is receiving God’s grace in Jesus. Faith and grace are gifts from God.

Many people think if they just obey God enough, they will earn salvation. Even though they are drowning, they think if they just swim harder (go to church more, pray more, give more, serve more) they will come to the top of the water and save themselves. But just like a boy or girl drowning in the deep end, we all need a Savior. We can’t earn God’s salvation and forgiveness. It must be given to us. Because of God’s grace and love, he gives us this gift in sending Jesus to stand in our place as our sacrifice.

If your mom saved you from drowning, you would hug and kiss her. When God saves us in Christ, our only response must be worship and rejoice in him. Our salvation is not a result of our works, so let’s never brag about ourselves, but only about him!

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

The Sovereign Giver: Brief Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3

giftsWe all have received gifts on special occasions, like birthdays and Christmas. When we receive special gifts it is easy for us to focus on the gift, but forget the giver of the gift. Too many times we forget to say, “Thank you.” When you were a kid, how many times did your parents have to remind you, “Say thank you” when you receive a gift from a friend? While it isn’t polite to just receive a gift without saying thank you, think about how crazy it is for us to receive so much from God and forget to say, “Thank you, Lord.”
Paul opens his letter to the Thessalonians by thanking God for them. He says that he prays for them constantly or without ceasing (v. 2). This means he makes a habit of praying, and when he prays he always mentions this church in his prayers. He then gives his reasons for why he is thankful to God in verse 3. He says he prays for them always “remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). Paul is saying, “I thank God for you because of your faith, love, and hope.”

Why is Paul thanking God if it is the Thessalonian Christians who are the ones doing the work? They are the ones with the “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope.” Yet, Paul gives thanks to God in his prayers for what these Christians are doing. Why? He does this because the faith, love, and hope of the Thessalonian Christians were gifts from God. It is impossible for us to have true faith, love, or hope without God working in our hearts first.

Without Christ being faithful to God in his life, we could not have faith. Without the Father first loving us, we could not truly love God and others. Without the Spirit giving life to our dead hearts, we would have no hope. When we trust Jesus for salvation, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him for it. When we grow in love for God and others, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him. When we have confidence in God even when bad things happen, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him for it.

Faith, love, and hope are not just marks of a Christian. They are gifts for the Christian. What did we do to deserve these gifts? This is the crazy part. We did nothing to deserve these gifts. Absolutely nothing! In fact, we deserve the opposite of these gifts because of our sin. If God were like Santa Claus, giving us gifts based on who is naughty or nice, we wouldn’t receive anything because we are all naughty. But God is better than Santa Claus. In Christ, he offers us unbelievable gifts not based on how good we are, but on how good he is.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Have Mercy On Me, O God

21449-mercyThree of the hardest words in the whole world to say are, “I am sorry.” When we are caught doing something we shouldn’t, or some of our wrongdoings are brought into the light, the last thing we want to do is come to them with our tails tucked between our legs saying those big words, “I am sorry.”
I’m convinced the biggest giant David faced wasn’t named Goliath, but Hubris. David wrote Psalm 51 right after he was caught in the act of hiding beneath a monstrous snowball of sin he had compounded. What we learn from this psalm is that we cannot hide anything from God. But also, we have a God who simultaneously judges our sin and justifies us in our sin.

In Psalm 51:1-2, David cries out in prayer, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”

I hope you see that David is doing much more than just saying, “I am sorry” to God. And God is doing much more than saying, “Ah, that’s ok” back to him. There are two main reasons why David cried out for mercy, and these two reasons speak the heart of the gospel.

1. David asked for mercy because God judges sinners

Why do you think David asked for God’s mercy? Mercy basically means you don’t get what you deserve. It is kind of like the word grace, which means you get far better than you deserve. But what does David deserve because of his sin? David had grievously sinned against God. He was not faithful to his wife and then he had a man murdered to try to cover up his infidelity. Anyone with a heart and any basic sense of justice can see that David deserves to be punished.

Sin deserves punishment. This is a logical and moral necessity in Christianity. If sin is not punished then either God is not there or God is not God. We are all, like David, guilty of sin against a holy God. We shouldn’t balk at this truth. It shouldn’t shock us that a good God despises that which detracts from the greatest and most joyous being in the universe. God is a good king and judge who doesn’t let sin go unpunished. David asked for mercy because his “transgressions” or “iniquities” or “sins” deserve God’s just punishment.

2. David asked for mercy because God saves sinners

David also asked God to have mercy on him because God is a gracious, kind, and loving God. The bad news about David’s prayer is that he is guilty and deserves punishment from God. The good news is this same God is ready and quick to show mercy. Do you see David’s description of God? He asks him to have mercy according to his “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy.” David doesn’t need God to say, “Oh, that’s ok. Don’t worry about it.” He needs God to say, “Yes, you are that bad. But I forgive you. I will wash you clean. I will wipe away your sins.” Salvation comes not because David gets a pass due to his status as king. Salvation comes due to God’s grace and the status of the King of kings who would later come to be judged in David’s place. King David received grace because King Jesus received judgment.

Asking for God’s mercy is no light plea. It is so important to see how preposterous David’s question is. For his own selfish gain and pleasure, David brought harm to his wife, Bathsheba, Uriah, and ultimately the glory of God in whose name he led as king. And he has the audacity to ask mercy from this God? The gospel is quite scandalous and I fear we take it for granted. I fear we are losing a sense of the scandal of the gospel. Our hearts are no longer ripped to the core when we think about the fact that God was not obligated, yet chose to set his face toward us. To ask for mercy is no light thing. To ask for mercy is to come to the end of yourself. Crying for mercy is humility in action. Yet, because of God’s abundant mercy and overflowing grace, our cries for mercy are not midnight moonshots. There is genuine confidence and hope found in the gracious judge from whom all mercy flows.

Do you know how David’s prayer (and your prayer) for mercy will ultimately be answered? On a cross. On the cross, the judgment of God and the grace of God meet face to face. David has hope for mercy because God will “blot out,” “wash,” and “cleanse” him of his sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus. You too can cry out for God’s mercy just like King David and receive it through the abundant and sufficient blood of Jesus.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Indifference or Obedience: How to Respond to God’s Grace in Christ

When we are presented with a truth-claim, we must respond to it in some way. I think about the resurrection of Jesus. When you are presented with the truth claim that a man named Jesus walked the face of the earth 2,000 years ago, died on a cross, and was raised from the dead, it forces us to respond in one way or another. We can reason and trust that this is true. Or we can reason and trust that this is not true. However, what we cannot do is remain indifferent. There is no indifference when it comes to the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son. Either Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead or he didn’t. There is no middle ground. And no matter which option we choose, our lives will be dramatically impacted one way or another by our response to the truth-claim of the resurrection of Christ.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-6 Paul presents a few truth-claims to which believers must respond. Paul presents a truth about God’s heart and a command from God’s Word in this passage. First, we are commanded to pray for all people. And secondly, we are told the truth-claim that God desires the salvation of all people and Christ died as the sole mediator for all people. The question is, will you take the next step through obedient response or will you miss the opportunity through disobedient indifference?

As people of the cross, we have been commanded to pray for all people because God desires that all people be saved and Jesus died for all people. This all means that there is no one too bad or too different for God’s love or Christ’s salvation. God pursues all kinds of people on earth. In fact, the Bible says that God has a people from every tribe and tongue on earth (Rev. 5:7). This means that from every nation on earth, there are those for whom Christ died. In the most remote village and in the busiest city are people for whom Christ shed his blood.

Paul knew this to be true. And because there is only one God and only one mediator in Jesus, Paul knew and now we know that this means that all of those people on earth cannot come to God unless they do so through Jesus. So, not only was Paul urging Timothy to pray for all people because of these things, he was urging Timothy to go to these people and to not keep the gospel away from anyone.

Notice Paul’s response to the dramatic truth-claim of God’s grace in verses 4-6: “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Tim. 2:7). Paul’s entire ministry was based on the fact that God desires global salvation and Jesus died for people from every tribe and tongue on the planet. Because the gospel is for everyone, Paul made it his goal to preach the gospel not just to people who look like him, but to anyone and everyone.

What about you? Do you have this attitude? Has the heart of God and the death of Christ for sinners caused you to desire all kinds of people in your family, circle of friends, and community to be saved? Has it caused you to pray for them? Are you willing to pray for not those who benefit you, but those who have little to do with you or even oppose you? Are you willing to share the gospel with those who make life hard for you? For those who are culturally miles apart from you? For those who do not do things the way you do? Does your prayer life, evangelistic outreach, and missions work in some way reflect the heart of God to save all kinds of people in Christ?

God uses the prayers of his people to accomplish the purposes of his heart through the work of his Son. You cannot be indifferent to the grace of God in Christ. You can be disobedient, though. Indifference to the gospel is just a quiet and subtle form of outright rebellion. And it is the evidence of an unchanged heart.

Instead, allow the grace of God in Christ to move you to respond with global prayer and global gospel proclamation. Respond to the great grace and love of God in the gospel of Jesus by sharing its message with your friends and enemies alike.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba.

If God Is For Us…

I have begun 2015 by reading a book that I should have already read twice. J. Gresham Machen’s What is Faith? is a classic theological text that examines the doctrine of saving faith while denigrating the liberal theology of his day. I came across something in the second chapter of his book that caused deep reflection. I wanted to share some of these musings.

Romans 8:31 is one of the most beloved and encouraging verses in the entire Bible. It is an expression of God’s immeasurable love and grace. It is found in one of the most profound and important sections of Scripture in the entire Bible. Romans 8:31-39 is basically a grand exultation in the love of God. While John 3:16 is a tremendous description of God’s love, nothing grasps the depths and extent of God’s love like Romans 8 and specifically Romans 8:31-39. Beautiful, poetic words flow from Paul’s pen as he was moved by the Holy Spirit to compose a glorious doxology of God’s love.

In the stream of words that display the glory of God’s love, there is one word that recently stood out to me; and it may be a word you would least expect.

After Paul asks what can be said now that he has explained the totality of God’s salvation from election to glorification, he says,

If God is for us, who can be against us?

The word that I have been sitting on is the word, “If.” If God is for us is a phrase that if left alone is absolutely frightening. I think we too easily pass by this word and interpret the verse as a conditional statement used by Paul with an assumed answer to drive home the force of his point regarding God’s everlasting love. Think about it. If God is for us. This phrase takes me back to Eden. It takes me back to my own sin. It causes me to reflect on the depth of God’s love.

When Adam sinned against God by breaking the covenant of works that necessitated his perfect obedience, he was immediately (along with the rest of mankind) thrust into the mire of eternal guilt and despair. From this point on, nothing necessitates that God respond with grace and love. God has no outside obligation to be “for us.” It is not as if we were some hot commodity that God just had to rescue because of our worth. No, we had forsaken our dignified right as heirs to the Kingdom. In Adam, we failed to fill the earth with the glory of the Lord. Instead, we began building a kingdom of our own based on obedience to the will of our sinful passions. In this state, we deserve God’s wrath and curse. And we definitely do not deserve his favor.

If God is for us. Who knew such a small word could cause my heart to stop? Think about it. God did not have to be for us. He could have left us in our guilt and he would be no less righteous. He could have left us in our sin and he would be no less good. God’s holiness, which is the glorious manifestation of all his attributes, is not dependent on the obedience of his creation. God is not love because he sets his favor toward sinners. He is and has been love for all eternity, before his rebellious creatures ever existed. His actions flow from his character, but his character is not determined by his actions or lack thereof. So, if God had not acted to save sinners, his character would remain eternally intact and perfect.

But what if God is not for us? He is still God, but our lives would be drastically different if he were not for us. If God is not for us, then our lives will be an endless and impossible search for pleasure, satisfaction, and joy, that will end in eternal misery. If God is not for us, then He is against us! How dreadfully important is this verse. For non-believers, this is the state they are in. This was the state I was in. As I walked in the darkness of my sin, God was not for me.

The better question is not what if God is not for us, but why would God ever be for us? What is in it for him? Why would a king with all the authority in the world set his favor toward the very ones that have staged a global and cosmic rebellion against his reign?

Theologian J. Gresham Machen answers this question in beautiful and profound simplicity:

But why is He for us? Simple indeed is the Christian answer to that question: He is for us simply because He has chosen to be. He surely has a right to receive whom He will into His fellowship: and as a matter of fact He has chosen to receive us poor sinners who trust in Christ; He chose to receive us when He gave Christ to die.

According to Machen, God’s favor is upon unworthy and undeserving sinners, because he sovereignly chose to set his favor upon us. He had no obligation, but according to his infinite wisdom, kindness, mercy, love, and grace, he chose to receive those who rejected him.

Machen continues,

It was His act, not ours…”If God be for us, who can be against us?”–it is a large “if,” but it melts away very soon in the warmth of God’s grace.

Not only is it a sovereign act of sheer grace that sets God’s favor upon us, but it depends not on our working, but on God’s alone. God being for us is totally dependent on his action, not ours. We can do nothing to attract the brightness of his face. His face shines upon us as a matter of his own doing. When we see the reality of God’s sovereign grace, it will truly melt away the bitterness of all the possibilities that lie in that cold little word, “if.”

If God is for us…Because of his sovereign grace, an action that is his alone, God is for those he has called to life in the Son. And this changes everything about the way we live. Namely, we can face all worldly enemies with confidence in the eternal and unshakable love of God in Christ. And all temptation to despair over the guilt of sin is swallowed up in God’s favor. Machen puts it this way, “If God knows that we are right, what care we for the blame of men?…Little care we whether our sin be thought unpardonable or no, little interested are we in the exact calculation of our guilt. Heap it up mountain high, yet God has removed it all.”

In the end, the Christian cannot fully explain why God would set his favor upon in light of our sin and guilt. While we can come to some answers, ultimately it is as simple as, “That’s the way God wanted it!” And that is good enough for me. The guilt that could pile up mountain high in my heart is enough to blacken even the brightest day. But the depth of God’s love is seen in the fact that he is for me even though I have sinned against him! Who am I to keep this love to myself?

So, Christian, live this day with utter confidence, that despite your sin and guilt, Christ died for you. And by your faith in him, his favor is upon you. I could not sum it up better than Machen, so I will allow him to close us out:

I know not what my guilt may be; one thing I know: Christ loved me and gave Himself for me. Come on now ye moralists of the world, come on ye hosts of demons, with your whisperings of hell! We fear you not; we take our stand beneath the shadow of the Cross, and standing there, in God’s favour, we are safe. No fear of challenge now! If God be for us, who can be against us? None, in heaven or in earth or in hell.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Martin Luther on the Relationship Between Justification and Sanctification

luther2_zoomI recently read an essay written by the Reformer, Martin Luther, entitled, “Two Kinds of Righteousness.” I found it to be very helpful and edifying, as well as carrying (as expected) astute theological significance. There has historically been much confusion over the relationship between justification and sanctification. Such confusion is still awry with the whirlwind surrounding Tullian Tchavidjian and The Gospel Coalition, just to give one example.
The relationship between justification and sanctification isn’t mere theological debate reserved for academics. One’s understanding of this relationship directly effects Christian living. For example, if one mistakenly believes justification to function in such a way that neglects progressive sanctification, there would be no motivation to mortify the flesh and sin. However, sanctification should never be viewed as a legalistic method by which one earns salvation as if justification did not exist. There must be a healthy balance between the two, understanding that justification and sanctification is distinct, but connected.

Luther’s “Two Kinds of Righteousness” as a whole serves the Christian in his or her daily battle with sin. I found sections from propositions two and six particularly helpful in clearly stating the connection and distinction within the relationship between justification and sanctification.

Proposition Two: “Therefore, everything which Christ has is ours, graciously bestowed on us unworthy men out of God’s sheer mercy, although we have rather deserved wrath and condemnation, and hell also.”

In explaining what he calls “alien righteousness,” the imputed righteousness that believers obtain by God’s grace through faith in Christ, Luther makes a theologically loaded statement in this second proposition that hits on a few doctrines. Firstly, he concisely describes the essence of imputed righteousness by writing, “…everything which Christ has is ours.” Luther points out the degree of the blessings poured out on the Christian through the imputed righteousness of Christ. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Luther sums up in this statement the blessings Christians receive through this glorious transaction. It is through this doctrine that we are justified and it is only by this doctrine that we can stand before God and be counted blameless in his sight. This statement is highly significant because in it we have a description of the direct effects of Christ’s imputed righteousness, which lead us to say with Paul, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3).

But even further, in this short section we see God’s sovereign grace in bestowing this blessing upon us. Our alien righteousness is nothing that we earn. It is a gift. It is a divine gift of sovereign grace, in which God grants saving faith to those whom he wills, though all are deserving of “wrath and condemnation, and hell also.” So, Luther also shows in this statement his affirmation of the depravity of man and the grace of God in salvation. According to Luther, our eternal destiny depends solely on the grace of God. From this we can apply that all praise, glory, and worship are due God alone. There is no room for boasting in salvation on man’s part.

 Proposition Six: “The second kind of righteousness is our proper righteousness, not because we alone work it, but because we work with that first and alien righteousness. This is that manner of life spent profitably in good works…in slaying he flesh and crucifying the desires with respect to the self…this righteousness consists in love to one’s neighbor…in meekness and fear towards God.”

Luther turns at this point in his essay from an exposition of justification (“alien righteousness”) to discuss the doctrine of sanctification (“proper righteousness”). It is noteworthy that Luther keeps at the forefront the necessity of God’s grace and the total and utter reliance on the work of Christ for salvation. He emphasizes that this “proper” or more active righteousness on our part is not a way by which we merit salvation, but rather a full reliance on the merit of Christ (“…not because we alone work it, but because we work with that first and alien righteousness”). This section is highly significant because it describes sanctification as being motivated by justification.

Though Luther accurately separates the two, he links them by showing the reliance of the one upon the other. To put it practically, Luther shows us that it is by the imputed righteousness of Christ that we do good works, slay the flesh, crucify selfish desires, love our neighbor, and fear God. This gets to the heart of Philippians 2:12-13, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We are to work out our salvation, yet it is God who works in us for his good pleasure.

According to Luther, our alien righteousness fuels our proper righteousness. God saves us by his grace alone and he works out our sanctification through the means of our obedience.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica.

Finding Joy by Fighting Sin: Thoughts on Grace, Sin, and Joy in God

hand-broken-chains-vector-1084222I have noticed a weak link in some Baptist circles. Baptist theology is by and large a high praise of the glory of God’s grace. This is unsurprising since Southern Baptist theology and confessions, such as the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, have their roots in Reformed Baptist theologians like James P. Boyce, John Broadus, and Basil Manly Jr. However, while this emphasis on grace is both biblical and praiseworthy, in some Baptist circles, an errant version of “grace” is taught and believed. Grace is wrongly understood as the doctrine that frees us to not worry about our sin, but to continue in it. The mantra may well be: “Show love. Show grace. Don’t bother with sin in you or others.” The idea of love radically changes into the allowance of sin in the name of cultural “tolerance.”
In such an environment, anytime sin is labeled, called out, or even discussed, those who gladly affirm grace deny obedience. This is a problem because Paul—the foremost proponent of salvation by grace through faith—desperately hated sin (Romans 7:7-25), debunked those who argued for an antinomian mindset (Romans 6:1-2), and urged believers to work as God works (Phil. 2:12-13). It is tempting to label Christian brothers and sisters who call for repentance as being judgmental or legalists when it is our sin that is being called into question.

The problem with this kind of thinking is what it produces—a culture of people praising God for his grace as a basis for continuing in their sin. This is utterly blasphemous. How can we talk so frequently and highly of God’s grace and ignore his people’s sin? Essentially, some Baptists want to have their cake and eat it too. Some Baptists are tempted on the basis of their own theology to continue living in sin while justifying it with God’s grace. I think one motivation for this, among many, is that it is hard for some to understand how mortifying the flesh, fighting sin, and repentance could be joyful. All of these things are painful, so how could there be any joy in them? That is an important question to ask. Can Baptists (or anyone) find joy in striving for holiness, dying to self, and fighting sin?

Let’s first take a deeper look at joy itself. The ultimate fulfillment of joy in man is found in the ultimate expression of love from God. Never say that joy cannot be found in suffering. Eternal joy is found in the suffering of our Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. In fact, joy is more profound, more real, more weighty and has more substance when found amidst suffering. Joy is by nature an end. Joy is the result of something. Joy in God is not dependent upon circumstances. Joy in God is dependent on the grace of the joy-Giver. Grace enables and fuels joy in God.

Where repentance goes, joy in God swiftly follows. Joy in God is found where repentance has left its mark. Joy in God is the footprint left by repentance. Repenting is not only necessary for salvation, commanded by God, and a requirement for admission into the Kingdom, it is also the most freeing, liberating, and relieving act one can make. Resting in repentance is breeding ground for a multitude of joy.

Joy in God is satisfaction in God. Satisfaction in God is contentment in God. Contentment in God results from resting in an eternal covenantal bond of which the Cornerstone announces: “I will never leave you nor forsake you!” Repentance is a marker of a member of this covenant. Eternal joy in God is impossible outside of a repentant heart. Holiness is the soil in which joy in God grows. Rich holiness leads to healthy and plentiful joy in God. And peace will always follow joy in God.

Pursuing joy in God is nothing more than the way of salvation, which is of the Lord. If you want to love yourself well, you should run not to your own defense when you sin, but to the eternal fountain of God’s joy and drink deeply. Loving yourself then can become holy and good and God-glorifying. Magnify the glory of God by being satisfied in him today. Be content in the Lord our God today and by doing so magnify his all-sufficient grace. Love God. Love yourself. If you do so in this joy-seeking way, then sin will become disgusting and distasteful. You will desire godly rebuke. You will gladly repent. Grace empowers holiness, not sinfulness.

If you want to love yourself well, you will love God to the end of glorifying him through your satisfaction of him. From here apply the principle of loving your neighbor as yourself. Seek their joy in God. Even better, seek your joy in their joy in God. Oh, the glory of God in the satisfaction of his people! May we ever revel in and spread the joy and glory of his grace. Under this theology we will enter heaven with full hearts and eager appetites, never to taste sin again.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica.