Why I Write

In the movie, Chariots of Fire, Olympian and future missionary Eric Liddell famously told his sister, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast.  And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”  When and where do you feel God’s pleasure?  I feel it when I write.

Admittedly, I began this blog several years ago with an agenda.  I perceived an imbalance in our common teaching on living the Christian life.  I felt the emphasis was too negative, too focused on the overwhelming power of sin in our lives, too critical of ourselves and our fellow believers.  I sought to bring the pendulum back by explaining all that became new at our new birth.  I unpacked the provisions of the New Covenant – including our new label as holy and beloved (Col 3:12) – and what they meant for living the supernatural Christian life.

When I started writing, I probably had 20 or 30 posts in my head.  To my surprise, the more I wrote, the more the ideas came flooding in.  Now, 300 posts later, my motivation has changed.  My emphasis is still the same, but I no longer write to put forth a theological agenda or a persuasive argument to support my position.  Without being presumptuous, I write to be God’s messenger and to feel His presence.  As I read God’s Word, I am compelled to explain – in the clearest terms possible – the Message He has conveyed.

As a geophysicist, I also have an unusual platform and maybe an uncommon approach.  Geologists and geophysicists have the whole world as a laboratory.  Hence, we are trained to think “big picture”.  We are trained to process large amounts of data – some of it contradictory – and uncover the “truth” about what is going on beneath and on the earth’s surface.

When I apply this training to reading Scripture, I see the Bible as an epic story of redemption.  I am not bothered by apparent contradictions.  I am not concerned with mysteries that seem to remain mysteries.  I have no problem separating the “Old” from the “New” while also celebrating their combined contribution to the story.  I see the Old Testament for what it is:  God’s old arrangement with man.  And peeking through that arrangement are pictures of something new; the coming Savior.  I see the New Testament for what it is:  God’s new arrangement with man, and the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.  I think because I have learned to change my geophysical interpretation with new data and information, I am comfortable with God changing His arrangement with man without any diminishing of His sovereignty or greatness.

Geophysicists are not 100 percenters.  We can celebrate, explain, and understand what we do know without having to know all of it.  Does that make sense?  I don’t need everything in the Bible to fit into neat theological pigeonholes to get excited about the Message.  I am content to let the Bible speak for itself.  And I believe when we do that, we encounter a Message that is coherent, dynamic, and mysterious all at the same time.  It is a Message that is alive, filled with resurrection power.

Early geophysical pioneers, with their primitive listening equipment had a phrase, “Let the earth speak to you.”  It seems a little corny now.  But I guess that is what I am saying about Scripture.  In my writing, I try to let Scripture speak for itself without a lot of theological system overtones.  I try to provide just enough commentary to help others put the big picture together, including how all these incredible concepts like the New Covenant apply to our daily lives.

Anyway, several of you have asked about where I get my ideas and my motivation.  A surprising result of “just starting” with post #1 several years ago has been the sense of God’s presence as I write.  May you experience His presence in the endeavors He has given you to do.

Freedom From the Performance Trap

Another freedom our new identity affords us is freedom from the performance trap.  How many of us measure our worth by our performance; or more specifically, by how others react to our performance?

Ryan Kwon writes, in the context of church planting, about the performance trap.  “The gospel says, it was through Christ’s performance, not our performance, which makes our adoption possible.  So now He accepts us as His own, and that is our primary and supreme identity.  The world tells me, ‘I am what I do.’  But the gospel tells me, ‘I do what I am.’  For the Christian, our identity precedes our activity.  So our identity is not based on winning, or losing, on a big church, or a small church.  God can’t love us any more, and He can’t love us any less.  He cannot give us a higher identity than the status of perfection.  Through this gospel identity we release our insecurities and our turf wars.  As a result, it releases the mission of God into our cities.”

“Our identity precedes our activity.”  I like that.  We so often get this turned around.  We think we earn our identity by our performance.  Take, for example, the gift of generosity.  We think we earn the label of “generous person” because we give our money away.  But in reality, if generosity is one of your gifts, then you already are a generous person because God gave you that gift.  Giving money away is not to earn the label, it is the fruit of the gift.  Are we splitting hairs here?  Does it really matter which came first, the identity or the activity?

I think it does for this reason.  When we recognize that our identity is wrapped up in who we are in Christ, we find our joy, our confidence, our self-worth in that new identity.  We do not rely on the opinion of others to validate who Christ already says we are.  When we find our value in what we accomplish in our activity…our joy, our confidence, and our self-worth are much more fluid being carried on the whims of what we or others think of our performance.

The world says, “I am defined by what I do, by what I have accomplished.”  God says, “You do what you do, you accomplish what you do, because of who you already are.”  Do you see the distinction?  It is not an excuse for laziness or lack of accomplishment.  God has given us plenty of good works to do.  It is a matter of motivation.  Stop seeing success as the key to your identity.  Instead, see your identity as the driving force behind doing what you do.  And when you do this, you will be set free from the performance trap.

Humility and Dignity

I once heard a speaker in a business setting say that he had no ego.  I had the same reaction that is probably going through your head right now, “Of course, he has an ego.  We all do.”  But as I thought about it later, I conceded that maybe pride is not an issue for him.  It is easy for me to project my challenges with pride onto others.  Do you think it is common for us to project our own besetting sins onto others and assume they are weighed down with the same issues?

Because of reactions like mine, humility is a hard topic to write about.  You can’t very well say it is something you have attained and come across as genuine.  It is even hard to give tips on how to reach for it.  I think one of the challenges is the way Christians confuse humility and dignity.

We too often equate humility with a denigration of dignity.  We assault our New Testament dignity by calling ourselves poor wretched sinners.  We somehow think seeing ourselves as basically worthless is a sign of humility.  I actually think it is calling God a liar since he has labeled us holy and beloved saints.  His label for us is where our dignity begins.

Our dignity comes from the fact that we are worthy to appear in God’s presence as holy and beloved saints; infused with the very righteousness of Christ.  And this righteousness is not just a covering of our sin, but is a real life infusion; an indwelling of supernatural proportions.  Our dignity comes from the fact that we are worthy to boldly approach God’s throne.  And our humility comes from the fact that we had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Our dignity is pure gift.

I like this distinction between dignity and humility.  I have said before that humility is not a bright person thinking they are unintelligent.  It is not a generous person thinking themselves a Scrooge.  It is not a talented person thinking they have no skill.  It is not a successful parent thinking of themselves as a failure.  Humility is giving God the credit for all those accomplishments.  It is giving God the glory for your talent, your brain, your understanding of the Word, your ability to communicate, your generosity, your parenting skills, and thanking Him for these gifts.

Humility is an attitude.  An attitude of thanksgiving and deflecting the glory from ourselves to our God, the giver of all good gifts.  It is not a denigration of our dignity.  You are deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, totally accepted, complete in Christ…and there is no inherent arrogance in believing that!

Free From Selfish Ambition

Another freedom that comes from our new heart, new nature, and new disposition is the freedom from selfish ambition.  Throughout the New Testament, the apostles highlight selfish ambition as one of our worst enemies.  James writes, “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.  This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, and demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:14-16).

Selfish ambition is arrogance unchecked.  Selfish ambition is earthly, natural, and demonic.  Selfish ambition sows seeds of discord, disorder, and every evil thing.  We and our selfish ambition really are our last and worst enemy.  So what is the remedy?

The cure for selfish ambition is its opposite; humility of mind.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard each other as more important than yourselves…Have the same mind as Jesus Christ who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:3, 5-8).  We are to have the same humility of mind as modeled by Jesus when He humbled Himself.

Do you know that this humility of mind is available to you?  Do you know that if you have received Christ, you have been indwelt with the mind of Christ?  In I Corinthians chapter 2, the apostle Paul highlights the fact that we have been given the mind of Christ.  “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised” (I Cor 2:14).  To the natural man, humility appears to be foolish.  To the spiritual man, we see its great value.  And we can appraise things spiritually because we “have been given the mind of Christ” (I Cor 2:16).  This short last phrase of chapter 2 almost seems to appear in passing, “We have been given the mind of Christ.”  But it is extremely powerful to dwell on.

Did you know you have the mind of Christ?  Now put that mind into action by embracing the humility of Christ (Phil 2:5-8) and letting Him set you free from selfish ambition!

The Gospel for Believers

The latest buzzword in Christian publishing is “the gospel”.  From J. D. Greear’s straightforward title, The Gospel:  Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, to Timothy Keller’s Center Church:  Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City.  Overall, this is a positive direction as we seek to rediscover the core of the gospel message for the church.  But what exactly is “the gospel”?

The gospel literally means “good news”.  And I think we can divide this “good news” into two forms.  First is the gospel for unbelievers.  It is a gospel message we are very familiar with.  When Jesus came to earth, He initiated a new arrangement between God and man.  His message of release from the penalty of our sin was totally founded upon His death, as a substitute for each of us, on a cross.  Under God’s old arrangement, the default arrangement for the whole human race, we stand guilty of breaking His moral code.  But that all goes by the wayside when we agree to God’s new arrangement by acknowledging our guilt, accepting the free gift of Christ’s death in our place, and embracing what Jesus says as true.  If you wish to say “I’m in” with this new arrangement, tell God in prayer about your decision.  Then, talk to someone about it.  This is the gospel for unbelievers.

But what happens next?  Once we place our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, how do we move forward in living the life of a Christ-follower?  This leads us to the second form of the gospel; the gospel for believers.  And this contains just as much “good news” as the gospel for unbelievers.  However, as a church, I believe we are much less familiar with this gospel message.  It is indeed “very good news” for believers.

The “good news” for believers is that as part of God’s new arrangement, His New Covenant with you and I, we are not only set free from sin’s penalty; but in an incredible supernatural experience, we are set free from sin’s power as well.  Prior to your initial salvation, sin was your capacity and propensity.  Now, as a child of God indwelt by His very presence in the form of the Holy Spirit, your propensity is righteousness, not sin.  Oh yes, we still have a sin capacity, but it is no longer our default mode.  It is no longer our inclination.  If this concept is new to you, let me recommend our series of posts titled, Walking in the New Nature, as a starting point to understanding this overarching message of the New Testament.

And why might believers not be familiar with this gospel?  It might be because it is largely missing in our new gospel literature.  Look at this quote from Dr. Keller that has become a popular re-post on the web.

“The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.”

I think this “dynamic for personal growth” is missing a critical ingredient.  His description of believers as “still sinful and sinning…more wicked than we ever dared believe…able to admit the true dimensions and character of your sin” does not agree with the Scriptural description of us as “holy and beloved saints” (Col 3:12) or having a new nature “which in the very likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

In Romans chapter 6, the apostle Paul anticipated the greater sin – greater grace question and Paul’s answer is this.  “Should we continue in sin so that grace may increase?  No, No, No!”  As we have explored in this blog many times, Paul’s basis for telling us not to continue in sin is because that is not who we are.  We now have “become infused with the righteousness of Christ” (II Cor 5:21) having been “raised with Christ, in the likeness of His resurrection, to walk in a brand new life” (Rom 6:4-5).

I believe Dr. Keller and many others would answer Paul’s question, “Should we continue in sin so that grace may increase?” with “No we shouldn’t, but we will.  And when we do, we will realize how great God’s grace is.”  Where is the hope for victory over sin in that?  Where is the power of victory over sin in that?  This is not what the New Testament teaches.  Propensity for sin is what you were before Christ; not what you are now.

What is the gospel message for believers?  What is the “good news” we should be preaching to the saints in our churches?  Based on God’s promise, based on God’s indwelling, based on the new creation you are; you have been set free from sin’s power.  This is incredibly “good news” and needs to be broadcast throughout our churches as widely as possible.  This is the gospel for believers.