Matthew Matthew 28 Psalm 2

The Nations are Christ’s Heritage

“Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” ~Psalm 2:8

Did Jesus forget to ask the Father for the nations?

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” ~Matthew 28:18-20.

The nations are the Heritage of Jesus. Go and preach the Gospel.

Apologetics Books Church Gospel

Recommended Books for New Believers (for Anyone!)

Here are a few recommended books to read particularly if you are a new believer. However, these are good books for any Christian to read.

I have listed the books in an order that should build a solid foundation of the Christian Gospel upon which our faith is built. What books would you recommend?

What is the Gospel by Greg Gilbert
Gospel by JD Greear
Gospel Primer for Christians by Milton Vincent
Gospel Deeps by Jared Wilson
Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathan Dodson and Matt Chandler
Gospel as Center by various
Grace Transforming by Philip Ryken
A Hunger for God by John Piper
Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian
Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart by JD Greear
Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges
Living the Cross Centered Life by CJ Mahaney
Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous
Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes
The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges
If God is Good by Randy Alcorn
The Practice of Godliness by Jerry Bridges
The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges
When People are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch
Who Do You Think You Are? by Mark Driscoll
The Work of Christ by RC Sproul
You Can Change by Tim Chester

Other recommendations:
Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church by Matt Chandler
Christian Beliefs by Wayne Grudem
Basic Christianity by John Stott
Reason for God by Tim Keller
Reasons for Belief by Norman Geisler
Why Church Matters by Joshua Harris
Everyday Church by Tim Chester

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Other recommendations:
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Introverted Christian

Tim Challies is spot on. Hammer? Meet nail.

I am an introvert. But I have to do extrovert-type things at times. However, I must prepare mentally for my non-introverted activities, and those activities tire me out. Like speaking in front of people. I don’t fear it so much as I have to prepare for it.

This is what makes it difficult to be in a group setting in which the speaker / teacher specifically calls on me to answer a question.

Pure panic.

And then I provide the wrong answer.

But as Challies says, “introversion is what I am, not who I am.”

Who am I?

In timely fashion, Challies also wrote a review of Mark Driscoll’s new book, Who Do you Think You Are. Tim writes,

At the heart of it all is our identity as God’s image-bearers. We have been created in God’s image and this gives us inherent worth and dignity. We are created as worshippers, yet by falling into sin we worship all the wrong things, leading us to craft idolatrous identities for ourselves. Instead of being identified first and foremost in our relationship to God, we ignore the Creator and craft other identities. It is the gospel, the good news of what Christ has done, that transforms, or re-forms, our identity. Driscoll writes, “Only by knowing our false identity apart from Christ in relation to our true identity in him can we rightly deal with and overcome the issues in our lives.” Identity is a matter of life and death.

My identity is in Christ.

Gospel Skepticism

Struggle of Life

Have you struggled with the way life is and the way it should be?

People fall into one of three philosophies of thought when struggling through this tension: Theist (We can know God), Agnostic (I’m not sure God exists or that we can know), and Atheist (We cannot know).

For the theist, the presence of evil is proof God exists; for the agnostic, evil creates a huge question in the mind; Atheists see evil as proof God does not exist.

At best, I am a theist. At worst, I am agnostic of the Mark 9:24 variety. Doubting Dawkins and Atheism’s Strength demonstrate the achilles heal of Atheism. Atheism is not a tenable option for me.

One honest atheist explains (please pardon some of the wording),

In a godless universe shit happens without rhyme nor reason. Life is predatory from the ground up. Creatures eat one another by trapping unsuspecting victims in unusual ways, launching surprise attacks out of the blue, and hunting in packs by overpowering prey with brute force and numbers. Sometimes a creature just goes wacko for no reason at all. Humans are not exempt. Sometimes the wiring in our brains goes haywire and we snap. We too are violent and we inherited this trait from our animal predecessors. We also show care and concern to our kith and kin but we can lash out in horrific ways at what we consider an uncaring world.

David Heddle remarks,

On the one hand, a very illuminating observation. On the other hand it is nothing more than yet another attempt at the proof of godlessness by the existence of evil. Axiomatic atheism is, if you will, a one-trick pony: Bad things happen, ergo no god. They also throw in “show me god exists” – a reasonable request from their perspective—but this is a negative statement rather than a positive. The only positive argument atheism has is, as Loftus puts it, shit happens. He writes:

In a universe where there is an all powerful, perfectly good, all knowing God this tragedy is not what we would expect to happen.

Here Loftus is 100% wrong. He is operating under the misguided assumption that Christianity is a religion that teaches shit never happens.

The bible teaches us to enjoy life, God’s bounty, and temporal happiness. It also promises, like a prescription medication: side effects may include pain, despair, suffering, lapses into grievous sin, weakness, apparent senselessness, persecution, misery, and physical death. Why atheists think that fallen man in a fallen world behaving exactly as the bible tells us is somehow a problem for Christianity is unfathomable. Shit happens. Loftus is correct that a godless world predicts as much. He is incorrect that a world with the god of the bible does not. Both hypotheses fit the data.

Heddle is spot on. But further, I would say that many people see God as a Ivory-Tower God, a God that is disconnected from His creation in any meaningful way.

If God were an Ivory-Tower God, then Atheists would be correct

But God is not an Ivory-Tower God but a God who can identify with our suffering.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable.” We need a suffering Savior. We need a Savior who has tasted the cup of horror we are being forced to drink.

But more to the point, as Peter Kreeft goes so far as to say, “If good and evil exist, God exists. The struggle of life is a struggle for faith, but not just faith but faith in Jesus, our Emmanuel.


A Gospel-Centered Manifesto Part 3

A right eschatology does not liberate us from the present; it liberates us for the present.

An Aside: Apocalyptic language and metaphor

As Matthew Malcolm4 shares,

If you’ve encountered the opinion that unless we interpret the Bible “literally” we are not doing justice to it, this could be a useful resource:

The Charge of Replacement Theology

What I’m finding is that those who charge Amillennialists as “Replacement Theologians” are establishing a straw man argument. The non-Amillennialist does not rebut the actual arguments of the Amillennialist, chiefly, the remnant of Israel is One, namely Jesus. He is the True Remnant of Israel, the True Israelite: read this post for details.

Because Jesus is the True Israelite (the True Remnant of Israel), everyone who believes in Jesus the Christ (the Messiah) becomes one (i.e. there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift).

This means that both Jew and Gentile are joint-heirs with Christ. This is not replacement theology. This is exactly the way it was meant to be in the first place.

Another way to look at it: Because Jesus is the True Remnant of One of Israel, Israel is expanded to include both Jew and Gentile, hence, this is Expansion Theology.

OR if you would like to keep pressing the point, Jesus replaces Israel (the unfaithful son) as the Faithful Son, the True Israel and then all who are joined in Him by faith becomes the New Israel — the two becoming one new man in Jesus:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. ~Ephesians 2:11-22

The BIG Question

The big question non-Amillennialists need to answer is,

How is Jesus not the True Remnant of Israel– a Remnant of One?

This is not a liberal / Conservative Discussion

Charles Spurgeon5 (a Premillennialist but not a Dispensationalist) explains,

Distinctions have been drawn by certain exceedingly wise men (measured by their own estimate of themselves), between the people of God who lived before the coming of Christ, and those who lived afterwards. We have even heard it asserted that those who lived before the coming of Christ so not belong to the church of God! We never know what we shall hear next, and perhaps it is a mercy that these absurdities are revealed at one time, in order that we may be able to endure their stupidity without dying of amazement. Why, every child of God in every place stands on the same footing; the Lord has not some children best beloved, some second-rate offspring, and others whom he hardly cares about. These who saw Christ’s day before it came, had a great difference as to what they knew, and perhaps in the same measure a difference as to what they enjoyed while on earth meditating upon Christ; but they were all washed in the same blood, all redeemed with the same ransom price, and made members of the same body. Israel in the covenant of grace is not natural Israel, but all believers in all ages. Before the first advent, all the types and shadows all pointed one way—they pointed to Christ, and to him all the saints looked with hope. Those who lived before Christ were not saved with a different salvation to that which shall come to us. They exercised faith as we must; that faith struggled as ours struggles, and that faith obtained its reward as ours shall.

Promises / Fulfillment

I have never read a persuasive argument for why we should have such a hard distinction between Israel and the Church. Because of the documentation I have presented, I am more convinced than ever that just as Israel is used in different ways (due to context – i.e. Israel as nation, Israel as true Spiritual Israel), the Church is used in different senses (i.e. physical representation of God’s people, the Church universal aka Spiritual Israel.

I do not see how we can get around this when there are promises made to Israel yet applied to the church.

Promises Made to Israel Fulfilled in the Church

Promise to Israel

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God. -Hosea 1:10

Fulfillment in the church

What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea: ‘I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.’ ‘And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God. -Romans 9:22-26

Promise to Israel

Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’ -Hosea 2:23

Fulfillment in the church

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. -1 Peter 2:9-10

Promise to Israel

On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, And repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, And rebuild it as in the days of old; -Amos 9:11

Fulfillment in the church

Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. ‘And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’ ‘Known to God from eternity are all His works. -Acts 15:14-18

Spoken to Israel, Applied to the Church
Spoken to Israel

And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. ‘And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls. -Joel 2:28-32

Applied to the church

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place…’But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. -Acts 2:1,16-21

Spoken to Israel

And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel. -Exodus 19:6

Applied to the church

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; -1 Peter 2:9

Spoken to Israel

My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. -Ezekiel 37:27

Applied to the church

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people. -2 Corinthians 6:16

Spoken to Israel

Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. -Leviticus 19:2

Applied to the church

but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ -1 Peter 1:15-16

Spoken to Israel

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– -Jeremiah 31:31

Applied to the church

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’ -Luke 22:20

Self-Condemnation of Dispensationalism

Charles Ryrie, in his early writings, makes this significant statement:

If the church does not have a new covenant, then she is fulfilling Israel’s promises, for it has been clearly shown that the Old Testament teaching on the new covenant is that it is for Israel. If the church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere else in the Scriptures, then [dispensational] premillennialism is condemned. One might well ask why there are not two aspects to the one new covenant. This is the position held by many premillennialists, but we agree that the amillennialist has every right to say of this view that it is a practical admission that the new covenant is fulfilled in and to the church.

This is why I am not a Dispensationalist. This is why I am Amillennialist because everything I see revolves around Christ and the Amillennial position expresses that most clearly.


1See more about a Christological Focus in An Amillennial Rebuttal to Dispensationalism 2.
2The Greatest Challenge and Privilege of OT Preaching by Mike Bullmore Senior Pastor of CrossWay Community Church in Bristol, Wisconsin.
3Dispensationalists should “Re-interpret” by Bobby Grow and here is the article Bobby links to: « Sign this petitionMilbank on Gay Marriage »
Fundamentalist hermeneutics serves a secular, atheistic agenda
by Matthew Malcolm
4Apocalyptic language and metaphor by Matthew Malcolm
5Spurgeon, “Jesus Christ Immutable,” MTP, 15:8. via Charles H. Spurgeon and the Nation of Israel: A Non-Dispensational Perspective on a Literal National Restoration by by Dennis Swanson

See A Gospel-Centered Manifesto Part One
See A Gospel-Centered Manifesto Part 2
SEe A Gospel-Centered Manifesto Part 3

Gospel Preaching

What Gospel-Centered Preaching Is and Does

Tim Keller writes,

“Christ-centered preaching converts doctrinal lectures or little how-to talks into true sermons.”

“The gospel brings news primarily, rather than instruction.”

Keller explains,

“In Luke 24 we learn that every single part of the Bible is really about Jesus. The Christ-centric preaching approach sees the whole Bible as essentially one big story with a central plot: God restores the world lost in Eden by intervening in history to call out and form a new humanity. This intervention climaxes in Jesus Christ, who accomplishes salvation for us what we could not accomplish for ourselves. While only a minority of Biblical passages actually give the whole storyline, every Biblical text must be placed in the whole storyline to be understood. In other words, every text must be asked “What does this tell me about the salvation we have in Christ?” in order to be understood.

This understanding of preaching, then, turns all preaching into narrative preaching, even if it is an exposition of Deuteronomy, Proverbs or James. Every sermon is a story in which the plot of the human dilemma thickens, and the hero that comes to the rescue is Jesus. Christ-centric preaching converts doctrinal lectures or little how-to talks into narrative preaching, but it is still careful, close Biblical exposition of texts.

The “informational” view of preaching conceives of preaching as changing people’s lives after the sermon. They listen to the sermon, take notes, and then apply the Biblical principles during the week. But this assumes that our main problem is a lack of compliance to Biblical principles, when (as we saw above) all our problems are actually due to a lack of joy and belief in the gospel. Our real problem is that Jesus’ salvation is not as real to our hearts as the significance and security our idols promise us. If that’s our real problem, then the purpose of preaching is to make Christ so real to the heart that in the sermon people have an experience of his grace, and the false saviors that drive us lose their power and grip on us on the spot. That’s the “experiential” view of preaching.”

Objection to Gospel-Centered Preaching

One objection to Christ-Centered preaching was expressed like this:

“While I would never want to take any emphasis away from the gospel, I would ask why those who have accepted the gospel need to be continually reminded of what took place?

If we assume for a minute that the gospel message is synonymous with telling how one can join a club (again, just assumption for a minute for understanding purposes). It would be as if you continually, week after week, twice a week, told the members of that club what must take place for them to join the club.

That sounds somewhat silly.

Likewise, we have already believed the good news. The good news that Jesus did come. While it is still good news, and while we should always rejoice in hearing that Jesus did come and die for our sins, we cannot forbid ourselves from learning other truths presented within the Word.

The Scripture speaks of the gospel, yes, but it does not only speak of the gospel. And while the gospel message may be the pivotal point and the climactic reason for all that is, this doesn’t mean that the gospel is all that there is”

Answering the Objection

I also can understand being a skeptic of Gospel-Centered Preaching. To reference the “joining the club” analogy, I must say that to equate the Gospel as merely an entrance to the Christian life is a misunderstanding of the real ramifications of what the Gospel truly is.

Scripture is like a great movie. Not every scene contains the main character, yet each scene pertains to the main character and would not make much sense without reference to the main character.

Think of Lord of the Rings. In the Two Towers, Gandalf told Aragorn to hold on and keep fighting. As far as Gandalf was concerned, the battle was already won. As soon as Gandalf showed up in the wee hours of the morning, all hope was instantly restored in those who were fighting. Even though Gandalf was not in much of the scenes at this point, it makes little sense for them to fight a seemingly losing battle without connecting what they are doing (fighting a good fight) to the one who has won the battle for them.

Likewise, even though Jesus is not specifically mentioned or even referenced in various passages, it makes little sense to preach to people “Do not lie,” and leave it at that. Yes, we should not lie, and it is good and right to tell the truth, just as it was good and right for Aragorn (and his allies) to fight for their lives and for that which is good, however, we must reference our doing (do not lie, love your neighbor, etc…) to Christ and His finished work. In the words of Paul, “It is Christ formed within us.”

Why shouldn’t we lie? Because it is wrong to lie? Yes, but a more profound reason is that as we partake of the nature of God (without becoming God, mind you – 2 Peter 1:4), the natural result is that we will want to tell the truth simply because of the Spirit of Christ Who lives within us. Because of the Spirit of Christ living in us, we partake of the nature of God which by necessity precedes the law – the law is the natural expression of the nature of God. To merely preach and teach our duty alone and it only being right to do because God desires us to do so seems to miss the point of our doing completely. We are to do these commands and follow these statutes because Christ Who is the exact imprint of the nature of God (Hebrews 1:3) of which we partake has 1) already finished the full requirement of the whole law (fulfilling our duty) 2) exhorts us to do them in reflection and admiration for what He (Christ) has done for us and in our place.

So why must we make the Gospel central in our preaching? Because Jesus and His finished work is the means by which we partake of God’s nature. Without making the Gospel the central reference point in our thinking and doing, we cease to preach a Christian message. The Christian message is Christ has fulfilled the whole law for us and in our place and it, that is, the gospel, is then what motivates us to do His will.

Gospel Interviews

The Gospel in Everyday Language: An Interview with Milton Vincent

As I have mentioned in the past (in 2007 to be exact), I have recommended the booklet A Gospel Primer for Christians now a book you can get from Amazon. I liked the Primer so much that I contacted Pastor Milton Vincent, the author of the Primer, and requested an interview. He graciously accepted the opportunity.

This interview has encouraged me greatly, and I am sure it will encourage you, as well. For anyone, and I am sure this includes everyone, struggling with sin in any and every area of life, this Q&A should be fresh, cold water to your soul.

First off, I want to thank you for taking this time to answer questions from a no-name blogger whom you have never met. I really want to make this an opportunity of learning and gleaning the wisdom God has given you relating to the ministry of the Gospel and to share this wisdom with my readers.

For starters, would you tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your ministry?

My wife and I are from Indianapolis, Indiana. We both went to Bob Jones University, and we graduated from there in ’87. I graduated from The Master’s Seminary in ’91, and a few months later I assumed the pastorate at Cornerstone Fellowship Bible Church, where my wife and I have been ever since. I did teach English Grammar at The Master’s Seminary for two years and Beginning Hebrew at the seminary for four years. I have four children, Brooke (17), Brendan (15), Benjamin (11), and Breanna (9). I have a terrible golf game.

1. You have written a booklet called A Gospel Primer for Christians. Can you explain why you wrote it and what your hopes are for the booklet?

To the Christians at Rome, Paul literally says, “I am eager to evangelize you who are at Rome” (Romans 1:16). Apparently, Paul felt that the Roman Christians still needed to be evangelized; and I have found the same to be true in my own life and in the lives of many other Christians to whom I minister. The Gospel Primer represents an attempt to meet the needs of Christians who, like me, feel the need for a simple tool through which they can evangelize themselves each day.

It had been a burden of mine since 2001 to write a gospel tract for Christian people, a tract which lays out for them the basics of the gospel, calls them to faith in that gospel, and shows them how they can come into a fuller experience of it. The Primer is that tract.

My hope for the booklet is simply that Christians will find the truths in it as helpful as I have found them to be in my own life. It has been rewarding in recent months to witness the interest in the primer and to hear of how it has blessed so many. This confirms to me that we all share the same basic need for the gospel each day.

2. Has your understanding of “the Gospel is for Christians” altered other facets of your theology? Why? Why not?

Yes and No. My doctrinal statement looks the same now as it did before. But my emphases are vastly different. Everything I say and do always goes back to the gospel. This wasn’t true of my ministry prior to 2001.

3. In your opinion, why do many Christians view the Gospel as only for unbelievers?

I don’t know, except to say that if I were the Devil, this would be one of my favorite lies. The gospel of Christ is so powerful that, after experiencing the defeat of seeing a person become converted, the Devil rushes in to tell them, “OK, you’ve experienced the gospel. Now let’s move on quickly to the deeper stuff”! This is a scheme that Satan has perfected all too well. Hence, we have Christians who are saved by the gospel, but who walk by the Law. They have entrusted their glorification completely over to Jesus, but have not learned the mechanics of how to leave their justification to Him also.

4. Would you explain your journey toward Gospel-Centeredness? Was there a watershed moment or sequence of moments?

Pardon the length of my reply. But since you asked, I will tell you.

I would have never acknowledged this to be the case, but I labored for most of my life to maintain my justified status before God, and I was always left frustrated in my attempts to do so. The “God” I believed in was easily ticked at me. When I would come into His presence to make right some wrong, His arms were tightly folded, and His eyes were slow to meet mine. I imagined an angry look on His face, and it was up to me to figure out some way to mollify Him.

I figured that if I beat up myself sufficiently in His presence, or pled with Him long enough, or just waited a few hours to put a little distance between me and my sin, then He might warm to me again.

This view of God would work for a short while, but after a couple weeks, the sheer quantity of times I failed God would reach a threshold where I was convinced that He was fed up with me. I also grew weary of always falling out of His favor and having to confess or work my way back into His good graces. Exhausted from such efforts, I would eventually give up actually trying to relate to God.

I would then go weeks and months where all I would do was simply try not to do anything too stupid or overtly sinful. But inwardly I harbored much sin, and, over time, I would find myself acting out in ways that would scare me and bring the Spirit’s conviction upon me. Feeling convicted over such sin, I would return to God as a prodigal and renew my efforts to please Him this time around. With a burst of energy, I would throw myself into trying to relate to God once again, only to end up a couple weeks later exactly as I had so many times before: frustrated, defeated, and exhausted.

I operated this way through college and seminary, and even through the first decade of my ministry as a pastor. All the while, I hung onto my faith, because I knew something better was available. I just didn’t know how to get to it. God was gracious to teach me many things along the way that continued to move me forward, but rest in Christ eluded me.

In April of 2001, I was in the fourth week of a season of renewal in my walk with the Lord. I was relating to God with renewed passion and was experiencing significant growth as a result. But the same wearisome agitation began to grow over me as the days wore by.

Driving home from work one day, my mind came back to the Lord after I had allowed my thoughts to drift for about ten minutes. I was instantly concerned about what I might have just been thinking about in the previous ten minutes. “Have I been thinking anything sinful?” I asked myself. “If so, then God would be angry at me for letting my thoughts wander so. Or maybe I wasn’t even thinking sinful thoughts, but perhaps God is still upset with me because I wasn’t thinking on Him instead.”

My mind began to agitate, and I winced under the Lord’s gaze. “Lord, are we OK?” I asked. “Have I thought any thoughts that have offended You? Do I need to make anything right in order to restore our relationship?”

I anxiously replayed my thoughts from the previous ten minutes. I felt I needed to do this in order to know what the countenance of God was towards me at that moment. If He was angry, then I had to get back into His good graces.

A feeling of nausea began to sweep over me. “Surely, relating to God can’t be this difficult!” my heart screamed. “Why is it so hard to stay in His good graces? I can’t keep track of every thought in order to make sure that He stays graciously disposed towards me! This isn’t possible!”

Feeling exhausted at the thought of a lifetime of having to tend so obsessively to keeping myself in the good favor of God, I felt an extreme urge to trash the whole effort.

The words of a hymn came to my mind and I began to sing them: “Jesus, I am resting, resting, in the joy of what Thou art . . . .” As I sang the words, I agonized over the fact that my own experience was far removed from the rest about which the songwriter spoke.

When I got home, I found that my wife and kids were not at home. So I grabbed my Bible and began reading Romans 5 out loud as I paced the floor in our living room. What led me to Romans 5 I don’t recall. But I’m glad I landed there, because the chapter saved my life.

I started reading: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have an introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand. And we exult . . . .”

As I continued through the chapter, my soul was stirred by the inspired ravings of a man who exulted in, rather than worried about, his justified status before God. This justification brought him into a gracious standing with God that was accomplished and always maintained by Jesus Christ.

The more I read, the more I began to see something I had not seen before. As a justified one, I am under God’s gracious favor at all times because of what Jesus did! This favored standing with God has nothing to do with my performance, but only with the performance of Jesus! As I read through the length of the chapter, I began to see that my justification was not something to agitate over, but to exult in, not something to wrestle for, but to rest in. I stole a glimpse into chapter 6 and realized that even when I sin, God’s grace abounds all the more as He graciously maintains my justified status.

The above realizations may seem like no-brainers to some, but Paul’s teaching on justification hit me that day like never before. Indeed, I had always believed I was justified, but I guess I treated my justification as some sort of legal fiction that had little direct bearing on the mechanics of how God related to me and how I related to Him. I suppose I would have imagined God saying, “Yeah, technically you’re justified, but I’m angry with you anyway for what you did today!”

But now I realized that absolutely 100% of the wrath I deserve for my sins was truly spent on Jesus, and there is none of God’s anger left over for me to bear, even when I fail God as a Christian. Hence, God now has only love, compassion, and deepest affection for me, and this love is without any admixture of wrath whatsoever. God always looks upon me and treats me with gracious favor, always seeking to work all things together for my ultimate and eternal good. All of these realities hold true even when I sin.

Being justified in Christ doesn’t mean that God no longer cares about my sin. He does care, and He is grieved by my sin. But His gracious favor upon me remains utterly unchanged by my sin, and no wrath is awakened in Him against me. In fact, God favors me so much when I sin that He sends chastisement into my life. He does so because He is for me, and loves me, and He disciplines me for my ultimate good.

Over the next few days, I wrote out some truths regarding my justification on a 3×5 card, and I carried that card around with me everywhere I went. I would pull the card out and read it several times a day. As I did so, I could hardly believe my good fortune. I drank in the doctrine of my justification like a dying man drinking a tall glass of water in the desert. The way those truths put my soul at rest was indescribable.

So delicious was the good news regarding my justification that I began to fear that perhaps I had misunderstood something. With fear and trembling, I ran what I had learned by two fellow-pastors and by the elders of Cornerstone. I also consulted a few evangelical theology books to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding something. To my great relief, I got a green light from all of these checkpoints! They all confirmed that I was rightly understanding what the Scriptures taught regarding my justification.

I felt like a kid in a candy store. How did I not see these things before? The Gospel is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. And it’s true!

The 3×5 card soon turned into the front side of a half sheet of paper, and one side quickly turned into two. I called it “A Gospel Primer” and kept inserting it into our church’s Sunday bulletins to make sure everyone was getting the good news of the Gospel. I kept quoting the contents of the Primer to myself in order to remain mindful of the grace of God in which I stood, because I found it too easy to get out of “gospel mode” and fall back into a performance-based relationship with God. Eventually, the single-page primer turned into a 78 page booklet, now entitled, “A Gospel Primer for Christians.”

Released from the burden of having to maintain my righteous standing with God, I quickly found that I had enormous amounts of passion to put into growing in holiness and ministering God’s amazing grace to other people. I had never had such energy available for ministry before, because so much of it was consumed with tending to my standing before God. I also found the grace of the gospel producing in me a huge passion to love and obey God. In moments of temptation, I enjoyed saying to myself, “You know, I can commit this sin, and God’s grace would abound to me all the more as He maintains my justified status. . . . But it is precisely for this reason that I choose not to commit this sin!” In such moments I would walk away from sin with laughter in my heart.

To keep a long story from getting longer, let me close this off by saying that I still struggle with sin, and I daily fall short of what I know God wants from me. But, without question, the Lord allowed me to turn a significant corner in my sanctification in the Spring of 2001. There are still many areas of my life which I have not yet brought the gospel fully to bear upon. And I am still learning and growing in my experience of the fullness of the gospel. But, as exciting as what I’ve already learned is, I see Jesus standing there saying, “There is more.”

And to me, a hell-deserving sinner, that’s just plain crazy. God’s grace is amazing!

5. How do you stay Gospel-Centered in your preaching without allegorizing?

I’m still growing in my ability to be gospel-centered in all I preach, and I have much to learn. While I have found it worthwhile to put forth the extra effort to be gospel-centered in every sermon, I don’t always feel that I have nailed it the way I should. In fact, in some ways I feel as if I am in Kindergarten on this topic. Nonetheless, what follows are some meandering thoughts that reflect my thinking and practice up to this point.

There are clearly gospel texts in Scripture (Isaiah 53, Ephesians 1-3, etc.), and, of course, I preach what’s there.

If I am preaching a prescriptive passage in the Old Testament, I preach the text for what it says in its context, but then tell people that they can only hope to be what the text calls for if they are centered on the gospel. I can tell them that every command in the Law is specifically designed by God to serve as a tutor to show them their bankruptcy and bring them to Christ (gospel!). If they are already saved, then every command in the Law is designed to bring them back again and again to Christ and His gospel.

Where the gospel is not explicitly in the text (as is the case with many proverbs), I preach the text and then bring the gospel to bear on the application. I suppose in such cases I am not applying a gospel-hermeneutic to the interpretation of the text as much as I am providing a gospel method for thinking through the application of the text.

When preaching Old Testament narrative, I think one can always bring the gospel to bear on the interpretation and application of the text. As a case in point, one can preach on David slaying Goliath, and he can talk about God preserving His people (particularly David!) through whom the Messiah would come (gospel!). By way of application, the preacher legitimately can ponder the strong-mindedness of David and ask what resource is available to us today to give us that same courage in the face of our enemies, particularly the principalities and powers we must stand against. The gospel provides abundant fuel for courage. Other gospel connections can easily be made.

One caution is in order. I think the preacher does well to treat Old Testament passages in their original context, and he should do the work necessary to discern how they were intended to be understood by their original readership. Some preachers might bail out on this process and jump too quickly to the gospel. In such cases, they actually diminish, rather than enrich, the gospel appreciation that such texts are ultimately intended to cultivate.

If I preach the commands of Scripture, even New Testament commands, without pointing people to the gospel, then I am nothing more than a preacher of the Law. After preaching some command in Scripture, such as “let all bitterness and wrath and anger . . . be put away from you . . . ,” I frequently tell our people, “Do not walk out of here merely resolving to do a better job of obeying this command. Instead, start gorging yourself on the gospel and you will catch yourself doing exactly what this passage tells you to do.”

6. What is the most challenging aspect for you in preaching? What have you done to overcome these challenge(s)?

For me, the most challenging aspect of preaching is the preparation process. Studying with tools of exegesis in one hand and a sword in the other, dealing with the fury of hell that seeks to impede my advancement in the text, often serves to make preparation excruciating. I envy men who rave about how much they enjoy their sermon preparation. Perhaps one day this will be my experience. For now, it is often the most painful part of what I do (this is not to say that there are not moments of rejoicing!).

It helps me to go into my sermon preparation with the mindset of a soldier. Sentinels of hell have stationed themselves around every truth in Scripture, and the mindset of a warrior braces me to fight the necessary fight to get at those truths for my own benefit and the benefit of the people to whom I am called to minister.

7. What advice would you share with people who are aspiring Pastors/Elders/Counselors within a church?

If you can do anything else, by all means do it. And if you can do anything else, you probably aren’t called. Ministry is not for the faint of heart. It is gritty and often messy. If you wish to be comfortable, do yourself a favor and avoid ministry.

The downside to avoiding ministry is that, when you reach your deathbed, you will have lived but one life. However, if you wish to live a thousand lives, and truly laugh all of your laughter and weep all of your tears, then ministry is definitely where it’s at.

Also, it seems that the longer I am in the ministry, the more I become a “one-tool” pastor/counselor. The one tool I have in my tool box is the gospel; and I’m finding that it works on everything!

Whether preaching or counseling, always direct people to the gospel, and then let the gospel wield God’s power in their areas of particular need. Follow Paul’s example by teaching gospel truth and then helping people to reason their way from gospel truth to whatever practical issue they are dealing with. This will save you a huge amount of work in the long run, and you will see for yourself why Paul calls the message of the cross “the power of God.”

8. What are some of the challenges you face as a Pastor in California?

Probably nothing any other pastor doesn’t face. People are the same anywhere. Actually, one of the greatest benefits to pastoring a church in California is that churches tend to be more racially integrated out here. One of the centerpieces of the gospel is that the death of Christ has obliterated the racial and socio-economic distinctions that once divided us outside of Christ. The journey to a racially integrated church is fraught with fewer obstacles out here than in some other parts of the country. I am extremely thankful for this.

9. Who are your past/present heroes of the faith? What draws your attention to them?

This is a difficult question for me to answer. I look up to so many people! Rather than boring you with a long list of heroes, I will give you just four, two of them from the past and two of whom are alive today.

The Apostle Paul is my greatest hero and dearest brother in the faith. The Lord used his fanatical zeal for the gospel to give me light and show me the way forward when my soul was at a critical impasse.

William Wilberforce. He was a gospel-driven man who worked and spoke with great conviction of the rightness of his causes, yet he did so with a humble consciousness of his own sin and graciousness toward others.

CJ Mahaney. I know of no other man who exudes the spirit of the apostle Paul more than he. CJ speaks and emotes about the gospel the way I’ve always imagined that the apostle Paul did when he was alive. I love him for that.

Jerry Bridges. Bridges’ book, The Discipline of Grace has had a huge impact on my life, and I will always be grateful for his introducing me to the role of the gospel in the life of the believer.

I would like to thank Pastor Milton Vincent for this interview. If you have any questions to ask him, I am sure he would not object (I previously asked if I could do a follow-up interview if needed). You can visit his church’s website at: