No Small Substitute

The good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11, 15). There are a number of causes for worship prompted by this part of the story.

The shepherd did not deserve to die; the sheep deserved death. A dead sheep is a much smaller deal than a dead shepherd, especially this Shepherd. But it is the good Shepherd who lays down His life in their place. He did not cease to be fully God so that He might bear the full weight of our wrath. The Shepherd also took on sheep’s clothing, full humanity, because the curse was on us. The substitution was necessary to deliver the sheep from their deserved slaughter, and it was no small substitute to save their life.

When we come to remember the death of the Shepherd, we do so as those in His flock. He is the door; if we entered by Him (v.9), we’re in His flock. The cross didn’t lower the fence so that we could jump over by our works, by our confession, or by anything we could bring with us. We’re in by grace; we’re no longer out looking in.

We’re in His flock, delivered from judgment. We’re also in the Father’s hand, safe from enemies. Our salvation is certain. The Father has great care for those purchased by the Son and all His sovereignty is employed for them. The Father gave us to the Son, the Son brings us to the Father for communion and preservation.

We are not killed or destroyed. We are given life! Jesus came, He said, “that [we] may have life and have it abundantly” (v.10). He gave His life for our life. Abundant life is not for some other people, or for some other time. Abundant life is for us, for now, and forever.

There is a way to remember Christ’s death that is consistent with what He accomplished. That remembrance includes gratitude that He took our place, identification with His flock, confidence in His protection, and bounce in our step. We come to the Lord’s table as those who are thankful, participatory, bold, and alive.

Owning Our Offenses

A key word for Christians is the word offense. It scales from annoyance, to resentment, to anger brought about by perceived insult or disregard. Proverbs 18:19 states, “A brother offended is more unyielding (harder to be won – KJV) than a strong city.” That doesn’t mean that it is entirely impossible, but it means that we could have avoided a lot of work for ourselves by avoiding offense in the first place. Unlike construction, if we measure twice in our relationships we might not make a cut at all.

One of the worst offenses is claiming that one did not cause an offense when one in fact did. Not owning one’s offense is offensive. That sort of denial adds lying to the original offense and ups the offense by treating the other person as if they’re crazy for acting offended. It adds insult to injury.

The most offensive offense is claiming to God that one has no offenses to confess. Not only does that add lying to the list of sins requiring confession, it also adds blasphemy to the list because it’s equal to calling God a liar. “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar” (1 John 1:10). That sort of offensive insult injures the insult-maker most.

The good news is that there is forgiveness for all our offenses if we confess them. God even promises to work in our hearts and cleanse the offense making factory, but we must come to Christ.

A Certain Kind of Person

[O]ur time of confession ought not to be about a list of items, kept or broken. We are in the process of becoming a certain kind of person. Everything we confess is that which interfered with that process. If it did not interfere with it, then there is nothing to confess. But the rules are not floating above our heads, independently autonomous. No, God’s rules are simply a description of what He is like, and what we would like to become like.

—Doug Wilson, Becoming a Certain Kind of Person

The Mutual Funds of Missions Funding

The Mutual Funds of Missions Funding

Doug Wilson writes about a local church’s advantages “to support a hundred missionaries at $25 a month,” namely, to diversify and minimize risk. The entire article is worthwhile, but this is his summary.

I think it was Andrew Carnagie who said to put all your eggs in one basket, and then to watch that basket. But watching the basket involves work. We would rather put 25 eggs in 25 different baskets, and then not watch anything.

The mantras of “personal knowledge” and “investment in lives” sound really good, almost hip even. But there is no way to do it without the willingness of the elder board to say to someone that they want him to “stop that.” And it cannot be done without an acknowledgement on the part of those who are sent that they are submitted to personal and real authority.

And the final kick in the pants:

But because we love our independence, because we are soft in our doctrine of how the Trinity knits us together, we would rather diversify the risk. We love our mutual funds.

Loving the Wife of a Pastor

Loving the Pastor’s Wife

If it were up to me, I’d tweak the title of this Driscoll post from “loving the pastor’s wife” to “loving the wife of a (or any) pastor,” but I know what he means. Read the wrong way, the whole thing may seem whiny. A pastor’s wife also needs to be a clay pot given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested, but the article shows some of the ways she may be particularly worn out.

Better Together

In a recent sermon I preached Ephesians 3:10, that the church makes known the manifold wisdom of God in heavenly places. The church is Christ’s Body, an assorted mix of individual members joined together under His headship. We’re better together, not meant to be separated.

While not written to the church, Proverbs 18:1 certainly applies for us in the church.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
and he breaks out against all sound judgment.

The NKJV translates the second-line summary: “He rages against all wise judgment.” That seems extra dramatic until we remember a few things. We were made for relationship, not isolation, because we were made in the image of the Triune God. In addition, we remember that sin isolates and, where there is sin, there is sinful blindness to our sin and every man sees himself as right. Soon Mr. Right is off by himself and “seeks his own desire.”

But we’re better together. Iron sharpens iron in contact. Hiding in the sheath all day dulls the edges of our hearts.

We need each other, for protection against sinful blindness and for shared, intensified joy. We were made male and female–in particular, husband and wife–for two to be one. It’s not good for man to be alone. We were made as believers, individual members of one body. We wisely fight isolation in our corporate meetings, our smaller groups, and our family fellowship times as we value and depend on one another. Let us not be guilty of isolating ourselves, even in our minds, and raging against wisdom.

Not Forgiving Others

Not everyone knows the gospel. Even fewer actually live the gospel.

The gospel, the good news, is that we who rebelled against God–and that was every one of us–can be reconciled to God through Christ. We who disobeyed God’s law can be forgiven in Christ who bore our punishment on the cross. We who stand before Him in blatant guilt of unrighteousness, incapable of providing the righteousness He requires, can be declared righteous in Christ who imputes His own righteousness into our account. We who are dead can have life, eternal life, God-life, in Christ, by confessing our sins and trusting Christ as Savior and Lord. That’s the gospel.

A certain kind of life, a gospel life, a life of gospel fruit necessarily grows from this faith. We who have been forgiven for sinning much must now also forgive those who have sinned against us little by comparison. Jesus told a parable to this end (Matthew 18:23-34), and the merciful master said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

We gospel-knowers should take heed lest that’s all we are. We are to forgive “just as” Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13) and this is an unattainable standard apart from the Spirit’s work in our hearts. Sin in us makes any sin against us seem worse than any sin by us against God. We are usually unwilling to forgive when our perspective is so perverted.

But we must forgive like Christ if we’ve been forgiven by Christ. This is gospel life. By our slowness to enact the gospel we commit sin that makes us greater debtors to the gospel ourselves. Bitterness and grudge-holding and stand-offishness do not belong in a gospel life. We must confess our sins of not forgiving others their sin. We must seek the forgiveness of the gospel for not giving the forgiveness of the gospel.

Practical Foolishness

Professing atheists1 are fools. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1). There are also practical atheists, those who, whether God exists or not, live like He doesn’t. Our lives, more than our lips, reflect what we believe in our hearts.

Idolators are also fools. There’s no wisdom in saying that there is no god, there’s also no wisdom in making up a god. And this is key for professing believers: there are practical idolators, too, those who live like the true God is different than He really is. We are image-bearers, not merely image-describers, and, in particular, we are Christians, so that means our behavior should reflect what He looks like.

If I describe God as a personal God but I always keep others at a distance, I reflect an idol, a distant God. That makes me a fool. If I say God is a God of love but I default to criticism or am quick to anger, I reflect an idol, a demanding God. That is practical idolatry; that is foolishness.

It’s easy for us to cry “Fool!” at someone who believes in evolution or someone who bows before a carved block of wood. It is harder to see and confess our own practical foolishness. We believe in a personal and loving God, and we must repent when we do not reflect Him truly.


  1. I say “professing” atheists because, according to Romans 1:18-21 every man knows God, even if he claims not to.

Address the Issue

In Mark 7 the Pharisees and scribes came to interrogate Jesus about His disciples’ failure to follow the proper eating liturgy. They asked, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (v.5) Jesus answered their question with a quotation.

Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This nation honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Jesus summarized the problem in verse 8: “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” In other words, “You all are following the wrong liturgy, not My disciples.”

There are at least two Pharisaical failures. First, men don’t set the standard, God does. Second, men set low standards; God’s standards always aim high, at the heart. The standards of men fail to address the issue.

After the rebuke, Jesus called the people to Him again and said,

Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. (vv.14-15)

Our problem isn’t simply that we want to replace God’s standard, it’s that we don’t like the conviction of dealing with what comes out of us, what is in our hearts. It’s easier to wash our hands or tell someone else to wash their hands. It’s easier to look good by donating money to missions than to be good by supporting our parents (vv.9-13).

Lust, coveting, deceit, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness come from within (vv.21-23). If we want to honor God, not only with our lips but also with our hearts, we must start by addressing the issue in our own hearts and confessing our sins.