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That Time God Told a Man to Kill His Only Son

Sacrifice_of_Isaac-Caravaggio_(Uffizi)

Our culture has bought into this strange notion that we are ever-evolving in our enlightenment and everyone who is old and dead is dumb. Everything we thought pre-Elvis is primitive and ignorant. So ancient story about God visiting an old man named Abraham and instructing him to sacrifice his teenaged son Isaac on an altar with a knife is downright offensive to our modern sensibilities. It’s one of those stories skeptics zero in on to illustrate the outlandish nature of God’s brutality.

And I’ll admit, I’ve often struggled with the story. Human sacrifice is certainly out of line with everything else that God has revealed and seems to break several of the big ten commandments. Could the story really be the account of a senile old man hallucinating? Or was God just that mean back then? But my doubts seem to wash away when I realize what’s really going on in the story, found in Genesis, chapter 22. And when I get it, I’m overwhelmed with the nature of God’s grace.

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To Understand the Gospel, First Understand God

Gospel of GodThere are three things I know beyond the shadow of a doubt… There is a God. I am not him. Neither are you.

I know that if we were to make up our own “god,” he wouldn’t resemble the God of the Bible much. I know that because that’s what humanity has done repeatedly and still does today. It’s easier to serve an idol that looks like our idea of god than it is to serve the Living God. That’s why I cringe when people say things like, “Well I just think God probably doesn’t mind…” Whatever comes next is the result of idolatry – our shaping of a god in our image according to our likeness.

The gospel, we’ve said, is defined as the good news about the story of our redemption in Jesus Christ. But to understand the gospel, we first need to understand God (at least, what God has revealed about Himself), because the good news of our redemption flows out of the story of whom God is. Let me explain…

God is our all-sufficient Creator. We often talk about how unfair it is for anyone to go to hell, but we forget that God is an all-sufficient Creator who doesn’t need us at all – He simply wants us! “Our” gospel often says that God owes us salvation, but God’s good news comes from the fact that God is sufficient by Himself. He owes no one anything! But He saves by grace – that’s good news!

God is the righteous and holy One – He hates sin. John 3:16 could easily and truthfully be reworded to say: “For God so hated sin that He gave His only begotten Son…” It is because of His holy nature that He abhors sin. He is separate from it. For God to excuse or associate with sin in any way would be a violation of His holy nature. But He LOVES sinners so much that He came to earth and put on skin and associated with people who had sin in their lives – that’s good news!

God is love – He loves people. You can’t understand the gospel until you understand that God is love. Not just that He loves… but that He IS love! There’s a difference. He doesn’t just do loving things, He does loving things because He defines love.

The gospel, the good news, is that our all-sufficient Creator wants us and loves us enough to save us and redeem for Himself a family through the price of His own dear Son, Jesus.

King Jesus Saves and Reigns!

There is good news.We love to take biblical words and weaken their meanings by adopting them for our own usage. One such word is “gospel.” We use it in a light-hearted way when we refer to something as “the gospel truth.” Like when we say, “Donald Trump’s hair is amazing – that’s the gospel truth!” Not only are we stating something subjective in objective terms, we’re also saying something… weird.

What exactly is the gospel? The word literally means “good news.” It’s good news about a Kingdom and its King. The good news began to be heralded with these words, “In the beginning, God created…” When Adam and Eve sinned, the whole human race was plunged into depravity, sinfulness, and lostness. God’s promise to the human race of a coming deliverer was good news. The good news, which was carried down through the lineage of the nation of Israel until Jesus came, was that God would restore all that was lost and broken in His creation.

The good news is the story of redemption. Jesus is its central protagonist and hero. He rose from the soil of Jewish history to live a life no one else had been capable of living. He died on the cross to provide a substitutionary atonement, paying for the penalty incurred by the sins of lost mankind. He rose again from the grave the third day resulting in His absolute victory over sin, death, and the grave.

He commissioned His church to tell the world this good news and empowers her today by the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. He ascended back to heaven and now rules and rains over this kingdom in a partial sense. That is, he rules and reigns over all submit to Him, receive Him as King, and join His forever family. And someday, He will return visibly and literally to commence His reign over all the earth, redeemed, reconciled, and restored.

That’s the good news. No matter how sin and evil have managed to wreck and ruin humanity, there is good news – King Jesus saves and reigns. No matter the extend of our lostness and brokenness, there is good news – King Jesus saves and reigns. No matter what the powers of the world do to conspire against the rule and authority of God, there is good news – King Jesus saves and reigns.

The question is, have you received King Jesus as your own? The good news is for the world, it is for Israel, it is for the church, and it is for YOU.

Getting Explicit About the Gospel

The Explicit Gospel by Matt ChandlerRick Warren said, “If you read only one book this year, make it this one. It’s that important.” The gospel is a message that never loses its relevancy and always needs retelling. I found Matt Chandler’s The Explicit Gospel to be an awesome retelling of it.

Chandler’s explanation of the gospel is ultra-clear, and while I detect that hint of his Reformed leanings (to which he alludes a time or two), his book avoids extremes, stays between the theological rails, and at least once even seems to rebuke calvinists for making the TULIP the central issue of the gospel. (To be fair, he rebukes anyone  who makes anything other than the biblical gospel central to the gospel.)

The first four chapters of the book could stand alone as a great summary of the most essential truths ever articulated. I love this for several reasons.

First, we need to realize that there is nothing “deeper” than the gospel. The gospel – the good news of God’s holiness, wrath, and love in giving Jesus as our substitute and raising Him again so that all who repent and believe in Him will have their sins forgiven – is the essence and entirety of our faith. It is both the introduction, the body, and the conclusion of the Christian faith.

Second, I love Chandler’s example to Pastors. Augustine, Spurgeon, Criswell, Piper, Stott, and so many other voices of influence in the history of Christianity were what we might call pastor-theologians. Many of the greatest had little formal religious education, yet they were willing to study hard and articulate theology from the viewpoint of a practitioner who shepherds people living through real circumstances. I applaud Chandler for writing the book, and I hope to see many other Pastors with the courage to enter the arena of writing theologically.

In the second part of the book, Matt takes the church to task – not in a way that is condemnatory or condescending, but rather as a passionate plea to return to the biblical gospel. He writes…

The moralism that passes for Christian faith today is a devastating hobby id you have no intention of submitting your life fully to God and chasing Him in Christ. (p. 70)

and further…

… Rick Warren was onto something when he opened his best-selling book with “It’s not about you” and subtitled it What On Earth Am I Here For? (p. 106)

His book serves as a stern warning against our wanderings and our extremes. Any deviation of the church from the gospel once delivered to the saints is dangerous no matter how “good” it may seem for other reasons.

Though it occupies just one chapter, I also love Chandler’s treatment of eschatology, which he refers to as “consummation,” keeping it in line with the centrality of the gospel’s power to make all things new. I’ve felt his tension of hoping to avoid the subject of the end times because so many have treated and represented this area of theology so poorly and too dogmatically. But I love how he brings it all back around to the eternal enjoyment of the results of the gospel. Redemption is forever.

My biggest personal takeaway is the need to avoid reducing the Christian faith to mere moralism. It’s a trap that I’ve fallen into in the past in my life and leadership, and I want to be careful stay focused on Jesus instead. Hear Chandler’s excellent explanation…

“The person who understands the gospel understands that, as a new creation, his spiritual nature is in opposition to sin now, and he seeks not just to weaken sin in his life, but to outright destroy it. Out of love for Jesus, he wants sin starved to death, and he will hunt and pursue the death of every sin in his heart until he has achieved success. This is a very different pursuit than simply wanting to be good. It is the result of having transferred one’s affections to Jesus.”

The gospel is not about doing better. It is about Jesus, and the change that happens in us when we fully surrender to Him in repentance and faith. Our doctrine determines our direction, and soaking in the goodness of the gospel will do more to change our direction than a hundred practical tips for better behavior.

Therefore… read The Explicit Gospel.

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Go, Disturb Your City

Disturb Your CityTwo thousand years ago, the good news of Jesus Christ had a tendency to upset entire social structures, flipping society upside down and leveling the playing field so that people from any position in life could have a restored relationship with God because of what Jesus Christ accomplished by His death on the cross. Throughout the New Testament, we read repeatedly of cities that were “disturbed” by the presence of the gospel (Acts 17:6).

This coming Sunday, I’m going to begin challenging those who are gathering as Grace Hills Church to disturb Bentonville, Rogers, and northwest Arkansas. That means we’re going to get intentional about infiltrating the culture around us, serving the city, loving the city, and changing the face of the city by the power of the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

I’ll post the notes later, but I simply wanted to ask you – have you disturbed your city?


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