I recently had the privilege of preaching at First Artesia Christian Reformed Church. In this clip from the sermon, we take a look at how Christ’s righteousness imputed to us is better than the guiltlessness that Adam lost. Below is the transcript of the video with a few edits to better fit this format.
When we talk about justification, the biblical and theological term of justification, we are talking about two imputations. First, as I already mentioned, our sins are imputed to Jesus. He bears our punishment on the cross, but the second part is that his righteousness is imputed to us and, we are counted righteous in Jesus.
Now some may say, “Well, isn’t guiltlessness the same as righteousness? I mean, if I haven’t sinned, am I not righteous? Well, it is much deeper than that. Let me give you an analogy.
Let us say a mom walks into her son’s room, and her son’s room is a mess. It’s been a mess for a week, and she is kind of getting tired of it. It is morning time, and she says, “Son, you will clean this room by five o’clock today. If you have it clean by five o’clock today, I am going to give you movie tickets for you and your two friends so you can go see that movie you have been wanting to see. If you do not have it cleaned, you’ll be grounded for a week.
Get the analogy here. Here is the law. There are blessings if you do it, and cursings if you do not. Now, imagine the mom comes back at five o’clock, and he hasn’t even started on it. The room is still a mess. She would say, “Okay, you are grounded for a week.”
Now imagine a week goes by, and he has paid his penalty. The son comes back to the mom and says, “Mom, I have paid my penalty. You can no longer punish me for this act.” The mom would say, “That is correct, that was the agreement. Imagine the son then saying, “Now give me my movie tickets.” You would say, “Wait a minute, you never did what was required to get the reward. I cannot punish you anymore, but you do not get the reward.”
Now think about Christ on the cross. We are not just in a place where we cannot be punished anymore. Christ lived the perfect life. He fulfilled all the requirements of the law. He has justly received the reward, and his righteousness is now counted as ours. We are co-heirs with him. That is the beauty of the holiness and the righteousness of Christ. Take that to heart. We are declared righteous in Christ as if we have fulfilled the law.
Thomas Brooks, a great Puritan, said this, “Christ provides a better righteousness than Adam lost.
For many evangelicals, it seems goosebumps are the litmus test as to whether a song is anointed, but an emotional reaction can be misleading. I once had a co-worker who loved just about everything Disney. He put a sticker on his car, and he would proudly wear Disney hats and shirts. He was one of the managers at the store where I was working at the time, and I remember one day when everything was going wrong, he said to me, “when this day is over I am going home, and I’m going to watch an old Disney movie.” When I pressed him a bit as to why he chose to watch an old Disney movie as opposed to anything else, he said, “Disney things just bring me back to when I was a kid.” Ultimately, there was a sense of nostalgia from all the memories of growing up, and these things moved his affections in a way that made him feel a bit better after a hard day.
On another note, music has a way of doing the same type of things for us. I can remember in high school and college when I would be listening to secular radio, and that new song that I had been waiting to hear would come on. Immediately, I would turn up the volume, and I would be energized by what I was hearing. I would sing along with all the passion I could muster, sometimes to questionable lyrics.
There is nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia and being energized or moved by some piece of music, provided the context is not sinful. Still, when you put these things together with a Christian worship service or program, we must be careful to discern our emotions. I bring this up because sometimes we can be misled to think that we have had a time of worship, or that we have heard a great sermon, on the sole basis that it moved our affections.
We must pay close attention to what is stirring our hearts to discern whether what we are experiencing is worship or even spiritual. When the worship leader plays the first chords of our favorite praise song, are we being energized much like the natural man who hears a secular song that causes him to turn up the radio, or are we genuinely worshipping? When grandma’s favorite hymn starts to play and causes us to experience a time of peace and contentment while thinking back to when she used to sing it to us as a child, do we sometimes confuse that with worship?
Now, I am not saying we should only sing dull songs or songs that do not remind us of anything, or that it is impossible to be genuinely worshipping during these times. On the contrary, I think it can be helpful to remember our family worship from when we were growing up, and I believe it is good that we still have people today writing new psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for us to sing that gets us excited. What I want to stress is that merely because we have these moments, does not mean we are worshipping or that we have drawn near to God in adoration.
Charles Spurgeon once said that if he wanted to, he could move congregations to tears by telling them sad stories of mothers with sick children or energize them by telling them stories of men and women who accomplished great things. He then went on to say, it would be a waste of time unless they were moved to cry over their sin and take joy in Christ and the cross. In other words, were their hearts and attention drawn to Jesus?
Even the natural man’s affections move in powerful ways, but those emotional stirrings will never be worship unless the truth of scripture moves us as the Holy Spirit points us to Christ and what He has done for us. Whether we attend a modern or traditional worship service is not the biggest issue, but we must be sure to seek out worship and preaching that convicts us of sin and shows us the remedy in Christ, which is the foundation of all true spiritual worship.
The state of our culture has many people living in fear, but this should not be the case for the Christian. The world is shuddering with anxiety over economic collapse, civil unrest, and even the fear of death. Its desperation is on full display. You cannot spend time on social media without being inundated with doomsayers, conspiracy theorists, and social pressures to conform to the world’s narrative. It seems we are in danger every hour.
This fear causes many Christians to hold their tongues, keep their faith private, and fall in line with the ways of the world. They have no voice of truth to offer our culture because the world has stifled them. They stagger along, barely able to stand. It is time to wake up from our drunken stupor. We must not go on sinning. Many who bear the name Christian have no knowledge of God, and this is to their shame (1 Corinthians 15:34).
We have allowed the fear of unrest and becoming social outcasts to silence us. Many Christians live lives cowering in the corner when they should be standing boldly for the world to see. Now, more than ever, the world needs to hear the truth of the gospel, but we are too busy trying to maintain personal peace and affluence.
The conflicts of our day are not the time for Christians to be afraid. We must be willing to put ourselves in danger. Speaking the truth of Christ and biblical standards, especially when it comes to sexuality, will cause you problems. You will subject yourself to cancel culture. Your social media accounts could be censored or shut down completely. You could even become unemployable because your views will not fit the world’s narrative. There is peace in Christ but that peace is not with the world.
Sooner or later, after our time here is done, we are going to die, and then what? Then comes the end, or should I say, the beginning. Christ will eventually return. He will destroy every rule, every authority, and every power that is contrary to his (1 Corinthians 15:24).
For those who bowed in fear to the world, what will you have then? You will have capitulated to the powers of those who will be on the wrong side of history. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, and the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:24).
Even death will be extinguished so we have nothing to fear. As Jesus himself rose from the dead, so will all believers. We will be raised in spiritual bodies that are imperishable, glorious, and full of power (1 Corinthians 15:44). Why do we fear the world’s rage? Do we not believe the King of Kings?
We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead shall be raised imperishable, and our mortal bodies shall put on immortality (Corinthians 15:51-53).
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but for those who are in Jesus, his blood has washed us clean. He has purchased us, he has risen from the dead, and he gives us the victory (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).
We are not to speak the truth with the world’s venom, we are to speak the truth in love. Why do you let the world cause you to cower? Why do you hide your light under a bushel? We are a city set on a hill. We are the light of the world, and even though the world loves darkness rather than light, we must shine his love for them to see. We must be the salt of the earth. Do not let Satan steal your saltiness because he has already lost.
Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Be willing to pour out your life as a drink offering; then comes the end, and it will be glorious.
We have history’s greatest sermons at our fingertips. I have recently discovered a new edifying podcast called Revived Thoughts. I was able to connect with Troy Frasier, one of the men who produce the content, and I asked him if he would be willing to write a guest post to let us know what Revived Thoughts is all about, and he graciously agreed.
Most people serious about their faith are familiar with some of the great theologians of the past. It’s not uncommon to hear a quote by Charles Spurgeon dropped in a sermon. Or maybe you have seen a quote go by on your social media of Jonathan Edwards or Martin Luther. These men continue to inspire us, and their books continue to be read by those seeking insights into their faith.
One thing we often forget is that before they were famous theologians they were preachers. To their congregants, they were often tender-hearted pastors who preached a passionate and accessible Gospel on how to live out the theology that they expressed in their books. It was there that their thoughts met real world-application.
Today it is not uncommon for Christians to listen to sermons from preachers all over the country. Sermons by pastors that have made names for themselves such as John Piper, Francis Chan, or John MacArthur. Before the age of podcasting and live streaming, preachers could be heard on the radio. Famous names like Leonard Ravenhill and Billy Sunday could be heard by tuning the dial. Through technology, these radio evangelists had replaced the original way of finding out what was preached: reading the sermon.
We have sermons going all the way back to the doorstep of the Apostles, with 2 Clement possibly preached within just a few years of John the Apostle’s death, all the way up to the mid-1900’s that were written down. Yet all these sermons, filled with magnificent truth, have been forgotten. They have been left on bookshelves to collect dust, and with them, the stories of the amazing preachers that delivered them.
When I was a teacher at a Christian school, I asked the middle school students to name any famous Christians they could think of. They named “Martin Luther King,” “Malcolm X,” “Mother Theresa,” and “Ghandi.” Now, besides the fact that half of that list is not even Christian, it shows a complete lack of awareness of Christian history. Of course, I may have had a bad survey sample, but I think it is also true that most Christians in the west hardly know how they got here. They may have a distorted memory from High School about the Reformation and Martin Luther nailing theses. They may know of some Puritan names, but they usually have little understanding of the lives of each of these men and how many of them interacted with each other. What were they up against? How was their family life? What great historical events did they experience, and how did that change their perspectives?
We are missing incredible testimonies and assurances of our faith! Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Andrew Gray, and so many other Puritans spent time in prison for their faith. They were told not to gather, yet they did it in secret and in barns in the woods. They show us a church that can grow and flourish despite cruel persecution and that can still be well-read through it all.
John Wycliffe lived through the Black Death. When he watched 60% of his village, people who looked healthy but were the sickest they had ever been drop dead a day later, he turned to God’s Word. When Hudson Taylor arrived in Shanghai during the start of the Taiping Rebellion, the fourth bloodiest event in human history, and saw the city on fire he stayed and created one of the biggest missionary organizations in Christian history.
These men were more than just scholars. They were people with lives that shine the glory of God. Even with their flaws, we see the amazing glory of God using broken individuals to accomplish incredible purposes.
These men were pastors. They preached and loved their congregations and labored week after week on sermons. Sermons that we have put aside, but technology is bringing them back to life! Their biographies and the best research on who these men were is now readily available online. Internet libraries have placed all their old catalogues within reach again, including books which contain these old sermons. Speakers from around the world can record these sermons and send them out to be published alongside the biographies of these great people of God.
You can download all of these sermons and biographies with the simple click of a button. Technology, the very thing that buried these incredible preachers of the past, is now bringing them back. Revived Thoughts is a podcast that exists to bring history’s greatest sermons back to life! Each Thursday, we publish a new sermon by a different preacher, and we also give you their back-story. We have released over 60 sermons by men ranging all across history. Not just those that you have heard of, but probably some that you’re unfamiliar with. We hope these sermons will all encourage you in your walk with God.
Check us out by subscribing to us on any podcast player or by going to our website, “Revived Thoughts.” We also run a sister podcast Revived Devos that takes devotionals from 7 great men of God and deliver them to you in 2-3 minute bite sized listens every single day.
It may seem strange, but my favorite thing about blogging is that you are not required to read this. Sure, there are several other aspects I enjoy. I like to write even if it is a painstaking process for me, and I desperately need an editor. I also find blogging therapeutic, or putting it in more biblical terms; it is a chance for me to be still and know that he is God. Most of my posts come from some stirring within me; some distress in my soul listening to hear the calmer of the storm say, “peace be still,” or some thirst meditating on the word of God seeking to be refreshed by a drink of living water. With all that said, though, I love that you can walk away whenever you choose, and here is why.
I do not like to waste people’s time, and several of my writings are just that. This post may fall into that category, or you may find something in it that is useful. It may encourage you to look at writing in a new way. It may even be the catalyst for you to start one of the most uncool things on the planet, a blog. Rarely does anyone gain any social credibility by walking into a party and telling people, “I have a blog,” however, that does not mean you should not do it. But I digress.
Writing a blog post is like pulling up a chair in someone’s home and starting a conversation. Somewhere along the way a piece of my heart will be exposed as a few of the fires within me struggle to find expression, but if my company is unsatisfactory, I can vanish from your presence simply by you looking away. You can do it now if you want. I will not even notice, so you do not have to worry about hurting my feelings, but the longer you keep reading, the more you allow the conversation to continue, and the more your hospitality endears me.
I teach a lot of classes, and one thing I know is that there are always people there who do not want to be. Whether it is my lack of teaching ability, the topic itself, or a desire or need of theirs that is pulling them away, I feel like I am imposing myself on them. I know that can be good in some situations, but not in most.
The inability to get up and walk out without causing a scene is one of the reasons we need to go to church regularly and sit under the Word of God. It is one of the reasons virtual church will never be as beneficial as actual church attendance. Our hearts are prone to wander, and physically sitting under the preaching of a man of God is a check on our restless souls. Even when they want to wander, they cannot. We must sit and listen even if we do not like the preacher’s manner of communication or his subject matter. It is the grace of God that he often convicts and nourishes us as we desire to escape, but that is church. Being imposed upon there is a good thing, but this is a blog, and I am not your pastor. At best, if you are a Christian, I am your brother in Christ, but that does not mean out of the millions of other things you could read online, you should be reading posts here.
What is the point of all this? The people I most enjoy hearing my thoughts are the ones who want to hear them. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, most of my writing comes from a stirring within me, and today, I simply wanted you to know that I do not take you for granted. Our time together may be as long or short as you wish, and your attention, however much of it you decide to give, is a gift to me. So, if you are still reading this, thank you. It means a lot, and knowing you took the time when you did not have to is what I love most about blogging.
We are a people clamoring to be heard. Everyone seems to have a grievance they want to air, and it seems someone else will be offended by those complaints which only compounds the outrage. When their voices are drowned by the flood of protests, many people will raise their pitch and resort to all kinds of deceptive strategies to get people to pay attention. Even journalists have degraded their profession by using misleading headlines to coax us into clicking their links. Contrary to Thoreau, many people are no longer living lives of quiet desperation, instead, they broadcast their desperation like a distorted siren. I suppose the world has always been this way; after all, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Still, with the introduction of the internet and social media, it all seems amplified these days.
As the world continues shouting for attention, truth has fallen in the streets (Isaiah 59:14). Our culture has replaced reason with emotions. Instead of talking about issues, we voice our feelings, trumpet our offense, and label those who disagree with us as evil. Personal attacks rule the day. We judge people for their judging, unaware of our hypocrisy. In a world that believes truth is relative and autonomy is the highest value, anything and nothing can be stated as truth, and those who disagree will be labeled as bigots.
He who shouts the loudest is the winner. We shout on television, we shout on online, we shout with our pocketbooks, and more and more we seem to see people starting to shout with violent protests. Since we can no longer reason, anyone who believes in truth and threatens the dogma of relativism will be bullied. Might makes right is the only logical outcome in a culture that denies reality.
It should not surprise us that many people use the word “hate” like a bully uses his fists: to dominate and intimidate. If this culture does not like what you say, it will try to silence you with trigger warnings and accusations of micro-aggressions. They sneer, “We will not listen to reason because you were found wanting the moment you violated us by failing to celebrate our narrative. If you do not bow to secularism’s subjective dictates, we will beat you into submission with social pressure and slander if we can gain enough power.” They will work to destroy your good name and subject you to cancel culture. These days, he who shuns evil makes himself a prey (Isaiah 14:15).
Despite the noise of this fallen world, the word of God never fails. Truth does not bow to pressure because truth cannot be altered. The word of the Lord is firmly fixed in the heavens (Psalm 119:89). Though the light goes out into the world, and men love darkness rather than light (John 3:19), the word of the Lord will not return void (Isaiah 55:11).
The grass will wither, and the flower may fade, but the word of the Lord endures forever (Isaiah 40:8). It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of the law to fail (Luke 16:17). We, as His children, have not been born of corruptible seed, but incorruptible, we were born again through the word of God which lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23), and we have nothing to fear because our lives are hidden in him (Colossians 3:3).
Every word of God is pure, and he is a shield to those who put their trust in him. Those who add to his words, or take away words, he will rebuke, and they will be found to be liars (Proverbs 30:5–6). The word of God is the rock upon which we must build our lives, for all other ground is sinking sand (Matthew 7:24-27). As believers, we do not need to compete with the noise of the world by raising our voices and playing its games of desperation, but we must speak, whatever the consequences (Acts 4:20). We must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
We have been commissioned by the Word of God himself, Jesus Christ, to go into all the world with his truth. It will not be our ingenuity or our volume that gives the word of God its strength. Its power is inherent. It is truth, and it will stand forever. It will be a light to our feet and a lamp unto our path (Psalm 119:105). If we abide in his word, we are truly his disciples, and we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32).
For Christians, temptations surround us to silence us. The enemy will whisper that scripture is dull and no one will listen to you. It will not earn you likes or shares so why bother. If you resist that warning, the threats will begin to be muttered reminding you that you will lose friends. You will become irrelevant. You will be labeled as narrow-minded, and the accusations will not be fair or truthful. The attacks on your character will be amplified to distortion, and they could leave you unemployable if you live out the Christian faith in public.
In light of all that, what will you do? At the end of the day, all Christians must answer the following question. Do I trust the word of God enough to continue speaking truth in a culture of noise?
What you are about to watch is Pastor Duggins’ final few minutes of his last sermon. He would die unexpectedly within the next couple hours. What you are witnessing is a faithful pastor going the distance amidst grief.
In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul uses some of his final words to address Archippus with this warning/encouragement, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” In the video, you saw every aspect of that verse on display.
First, pastor Duggins had been watchful. He knew his enemy was prowling around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. His enemy was not only trying get him to give up, but his flock also. There is only one message that can overcome those dangers, and that is Gospel. It is easy to wander off into all kinds of topics that tickle the ear, and entertainment is what many people desire to hear, but Pastor Duggins preached the word.
He was also sober-minded. He did not let the condition of his broken heart pull him away from his calling. To answer his pain, he did not resort to worldly stimulants; he went to his Savior, who fortified him with the strength he needed.
He endured the suffering. Even amid grief, he did not lose faith in his Heavenly Father, and he did the work of an Evangelist. Through constant and faithful teaching, He pointed them to Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life.
In all of that, he fulfilled his ministry. The idea of the word “fulfill” carries with it two thoughts. The first and most common is never to give up; preach the scriptures until the day you die, and this is what Pastor Duggins has done. However, there is a second idea in the word as well, and that is the idea of proving. It is only by patiently enduring afflictions, continually preaching the word, and never drifting away that a ministry is validated. All these characteristics show pastor Duggins to be a good and faithful minister in Christ.
There is now no question about his faithfulness. He has run his course; he has finished the race. Shortly after he preached these words, he kneeled before Jesus, who said, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into joy today.”
What about us? We never know when a gospel presentation will be our last. There is so much in this world working to pull us away, and, internally, we are prone to wander. Whatever your profession, our Lord has called all believers to be fishers of men. Be watchful of your enemy, be sober and diligent, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry. The only way this will happen is by staying close to our Savior. Jesus, keep us near the cross.
Pastor Duggins, who was kept by the power of God through faith, has now entered that great cloud of witnesses. Since they surround us, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Well done Pastor Duggins. Your ministry continues to bear fruit even while you are present with the Lord. We cannot wait to join you and your beautiful wife and praise Jesus who accomplished it all, but for now, your example of faithfulness will encourage us all to stay the course and finish the race.
I am thankful for the option of online worship in times like these, but we need to be clear, it is not church. During this time, when we are sheltering at home to slow the spread to coronavirus, having the option for watching our local churches conduct some kind of worship program is a good thing. I recently wrote a post that argued that deciding on temporary online gatherings is a matter of Christian liberty during this unprecedented time. Each church must make its decisions based on its context and convictions. However, church is much more than watching worship leaders and pastors over the internet. Yes, we can listen to the music, and some might even sing along. We can also listen to the word preached, but there is way too much we are missing out on online to call it church. Here are some of them.
1. Fellowship and Accountability
The Bible is clear that iron sharpens iron, and so one man sharpens another. If you have never been intimately involved in a local church, you may not know what I am getting at. It is difficult to put into words, but if you have experienced it, you will immediately understand. If you have attended church virtually for only one or two weeks, I know you are already missing it.
The music and preaching of the word are necessary means of grace in the life of a believer, but there is another thing the Holy Spirit uses just as much as those two things to keep us walking in his ways; I do not want to let my fellow church members down. We have covenanted together to place our lives under the lordship of Christ Jesus, and when we gather, I know we will interact with the scriptures and pray together. When temptations surround me during the week, my mind often imagines what it would be like to look at my brothers and sisters in Christ in the eyes and act like I have been living holy during the week. It is unbearable. I also know that when I do fall, they will be there to point me to the nail-scarred hands to find forgiveness. Online worship misses out on this aspect entirely.
2. Undivided Attention
We need to be honest here; we are easily distracted people. Even in church, the enemy tries to pull our thoughts away from our good and gracious King, but, remotely, on a device with so many notifications ready to alert us to other shiny things, it is almost impossible. We also must admit that we rarely take “corporate” prayer seriously when watching online. You may be better at this than I am, but for me, there is no comparison to my level of engagement when I am at church and when I am sitting in front of a live stream.
3. Encouraging Your Pastor and Other Leaders in the Church
Pastors and church leaders need the corporate nature of worship just as much or more than we do. They face the same temptations we face and need us to be there for them just as much as we need them to be there for us. There are also temptations to despair that pastors face that we laypeople may never know because the enemy is after them. Teaching online is a way to keep ministering during a time like this covid-19 pandemic, but it can quickly steal their strength.
I currently teach a class at the church where I am a member, and since the students were not able to meet this week, I sent out a quick video covering the material in the curriculum. I was glad I was able to do it, and several people responded with appreciation, but I assume, if they are like me, they probably did not spend much time with the video. A few may have watched it all the way through, but most of them probably just clicked on it for a few minutes to see what it was all about and then went on to something else. Please, do not get me wrong; I am not blaming them for anything. I know this is how most people responded to the video because that is what I do with many similar videos. We cannot encourage our pastors and leaders virtually like we can when we gather, and the enemy will tempt them to discouragement. Perhaps we should all email our pastors today to tell them we are thankful for them.
4. Bearing the Burdens of Others
When we gather, we are not only nourished by our fellow believers, but we nourish them as well. They have time to let us know about their praises and their pains, and we can speak the word of God to them. They may already know what the scripture says, and they might have read the verses themselves earlier that week, but when they know that someone else understands and can comfort them because they have been through it too, it is priceless. Though this may happen to a small degree in virtual communities, it does not occur as frequently or as profoundly as when it is face to face.
I am sure in all the worship services you have watched online; you have never been served communion by your church leaders. Biblically, two of the most important means of grace are word and sacrament, and the latter is always missing online worship. This point alone to should be enough to convince us that an online service is not church.
6. Putting Our Gifts Into Practice
As believers, God has given all of us spiritual gifts, and most of the gifts, like service, encouragement, helps, and showing mercy, among others, do not happen when the people of the church watch the leaders online.
7. A Taste of Heaven
Finally, corporate worship gives us a small glimpse of heaven. In this fallen world, we may only get that glimpse as through a dark glass, but it is a glimpse none-the-less. Hearing the other voices singing with you when you sing praises to your God, reminds you that you are not alone. To borrow an example from the life of Elijah, God has kept thousands of others who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Someday, all believers will gather in Christ’s presence in heaven. Corporate worship should remind us of this, and that is missed when we are unable to come together to praise his name..
I, for one, am thankful for the technology we can use in these trying days, but the time cannot come soon enough for me when we will all come together and enter his courts with praise.
To say the decision to cancel church or not because of coronavirus is an issue of faith over fear is uncharitable, or at least unthoughtful. Dealing with covid-19 has us in an unprecedented time, and local congregations must decide how to continue to worship, protect its people, and be good citizens as well. Too often, people speak of this issue as a matter of whether the local church has enough faith, or if they will fail to trust God and let fear control them. Though fear may have played a role in some congregations’ decision to cancel its worship service this weekend, to speak of this issue in this way in general, exposes a failure to think deeply about what we are facing.
It would be just as wrong to say that all churches should opt for virtual services as it would be to say that all churches should gather as usual. Each church has a different context. Some are large, and some are small. Some are in rural settings that are naturally socially distanced, and others are in urban areas. Each church must evaluate what to do based on their context. To assume if a church opts not to gather, they are letting fear rule them, not only disparages our brothers and sisters in Christ; it is patently untrue for most congregations.
For those who say altering a church service due to covid-19 is a lack of faith, it is easy to point out their inconsistency by asking them some questions. Did you cancel your greeting time? Did you provide hand sanitizer for those in attendance? Did you ask the sick to stay home? Did you make any changes to protect your people? If they answer “yes” to any of these questions, simply apply their argument to them and ask why they failed to trust God? Of course, we need to do it in love. We must do it in a way that lets them know we care for them. We do not want to be uncharitable ourselves.
It is not a matter of faith over fear; it is a matter of where each congregation needs to draw the line to protect its people and society as a whole. Christ calls us to love our neighbors, and if it is in the best interest of those around us to keep our distance, it would be unloving to meet in person. Each church needs to make the decision that best fits their situation. If anything is an example of Christian liberty, this should be it. Hopefully, with a little more thought, we will stop speaking of this as a matter of faith over fear out of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are only doing what they need to do to be wise stewards of what God has entrusted to them.
It is common these days to hear people who appeared to walk close to the Lord, announce to the world that they are embracing a sinful lifestyle, or that they have doubted their faith and are moving on to other things. Usually, these announcements involve a discussion of their happiness. They will allude to the fact that they were in a time of sorrow, but now they are happy. What should we think about such an announcement? Should we not be glad they are happy? Do we want them to be depressed? What we should think about when we hear these claims is the deceptive nature of sin.
Scripture says that our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, and much too often, we do not take this warning seriously enough. Now, I do not claim to have insight into the exact reasons why each person would decide to grab on to their lusts and forsake their obedience to the Lord, but there are a few general contours which usually take place in all these cases.
First, it does not happen overnight. Falls of this nature usually progress from what we sometimes consider lesser sins. We are prone to wander, and we must always be on guard. Thoughts enter the mind, and instead of dealing with them, we begin to dwell upon them. Then those thoughts progress into small acts of compromise, and years later, there seems to be no way of reversing the trend. The warning here should be clear, with whatever sin we are dealing, one of the critical battlegrounds, if not the key battleground, is the mind and affections. We must take every thought captive and not wait until they manifest in other ways.
What does this have to do with happiness? Following Jesus disrupts our pleasure in pursuing sin even in our thought life. What we watch on TV, the music we choose to listen to, and what we spend our time looking at online are all free game. For the true Christian, once the Holy Spirit enters our life, a civil war between flesh and spirit begins. This struggle is not easy. For those who merely profess Christianity, it is even worse. Christianity disrupts their desires for sin, but they lack the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives to have any victory or find any joy in it. Talk about a recipe for depression. Though they experience common grace during this time, without a heart changed by the power of God and saving faith in him, failure is inevitable. You cannot subdue the flesh in the power of the flesh.
Second, comes the questioning of God. “Did the Lord really say?” is the question that inevitably comes to mind. During this point, whether consciously or unconsciously, something begins to cause them to put scripture in a place of lesser authority. Unfortunately, what usually takes its place, and causes revision to the clear interpretation of the word of God, is “happiness.” Some make this such a point in their announcements that they will admit that before they walked away, they had to take anti-depressants to cope. However, according to them, the good news is that they are happy now. So why would they bring this up? Though they often do not state it explicitly, it is for the simple reason that they want us to make the same logical conclusion they made. “If I am not happy, something must be wrong with my understanding of God or his word.” Of course, this understanding is typically the biblical understanding Christians have held thought the history of the church.
Third, churches often help lead them down this path. This trend of putting happiness first did not appear out of thin air. It saturates American evangelicalism. All we have to do is listen to Christian music, attend Christian conferences, or even attend the preaching in many churches to hear this message. Many Evangelical teachers and preachers have substituted the true gospel for something a little more palatable to culture, and the shift is subtle. Instead of preaching law and gospel where they tell us the truth that we need to come to Christ because we are sinners deserving of wrath and that the wages of sin is death, what many preach in its place are sorrow and self-esteem. The reason we need to come to Christ, they tell us, is not because we are sinners deserving wrath, but because we feel lonely, things aren’t going right in our life, and because we are unsatisfied at the moment. Jesus is no longer the mediator; he is our therapist. Jesus did not come to save us from our sin and guilt; he came to save us from our sadness. The problem with this is evident when we ask, what happens when a “Christian” becomes unhappy, lonely, or unsatisfied? What is the problem now? They already have Jesus. The issue must be with the way we interpret Jesus. And so it goes.
The problem is that striving against sin, whether in ourselves or culture, is never comfortable or pleasant. Striving against sin can even make us lonely, because some people will reject us for it, and we may also face times of heaviness and great sorrow because of it too.
The book of Hebrews makes this point; it encourages us to press on in our fight against sin. It reminds us that we “have not resisted to bloodshed striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). The point of this verse is, we must strive against sin even if it gets us killed, which is certainly not a “happy” experience.
Here is what I want to say to those who have given in to their lusts to find “happiness.” Yes, it is hard struggling against sinful desires that war against your soul. It may cause you unhappiness for a time, but you have not yet resisted to bloodshed. It would be better to enter the kingdom of heaven after a long and unpleasant fight than to go to hell on beds of ease. Come home! Repent, find forgiveness in Jesus, and start fighting against sin again, for any temporary happiness you think you now experience will be short-lived. Even though living a life battling with sin may be tough, it cannot be compared to the glory that awaits us in heaven with our Savior.
Sin is deceptive and always looks good at first, but it always promises more than it can deliver. In the end, when you walk away, what you are gaining is the paltry tin of worldly pleasures, and you are giving away the glory of possessing the pearl of great price, Jesus Christ. Even in our darkest nights, he has promised to be with us in the dungeon. He is our light in the darkness, our food when we are hungry, the living water when we are thirsty, and, most importantly, our forgiveness for our sins. Once we understand our sin and forgiveness, we know that anything short of hell is mercy, and, at that moment, we find joy and realize that he does turn our mourning into dancing. In the end, Jesus is our joy, but he will never be that if we do not understand our sin is the real reason we need him, not our sadness. It is here that we begin to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
For anyone who claims to be a Christian but has drifted into sin, I pray, if you will not repent now, that you are a true Christian who will be brought back by the chastening hand of the Lord (Heb. 12:11). The unfortunate thing for many who find themselves in this situation is that they never come back because they are not his, and scripture is clear:
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. -Hebrews 12:8
The only reason why someone would ultimately and finally fall away from the faith is an unregenerate heart. May we all be aware of the roaring lion and his tactics. May we guard our hearts diligently even when it is painful. I, for one, will not be glad when someone who professed Christ claims to find happiness in his or her sinful lifestyle. Instead, I will weep for them to come home.