Don Whitney, a good friend and a godly man, answers. (more…)
Two college sophomores, drinking almond milk chai lattes, encouraging each other, bearing each other’s burdens, and then it happens.
“You know what I did? I just had to learn to let go and let God.” Her friend nods in agreement while sipping, and adds, “You are so right. I need to let go and just, you know, let God.”
Is that what she needs to do? Is that what you need to do? Probably not. Or maybe it is.
Beyond Bible Beltisms
We could mobilize an army of Christian platitudes and faux-wisdom sayings—ones we’ve heard and ones we wield, as the kids say, with reckless abandon. But the reckless delivery of platitudes and abandoning biblical thinking should make us pause, and consider, maybe this isn’t such a God-thing. Let the reader understand.
When it comes to letting go and letting God, I’m encouraged and discouraged. I can pump my fist in agreement and also scratch my head and lean forward with concern.
We know why the phrase gets airtime in our churches and small groups. It’s catchy. It’s sing-songy. It’s like an old-school Tomlin-era worship hit—memorable, repeatable, and there’s truth to it. But, when truth gets canned into concentrate, we can’t ignore the fine print.
For Justification, Let Go and Let God
In conversion, being born again and made new in Christ, and justification by faith alone in Christ alone—we must let go of our ways and believe in God’s.
The gospel naysays all other attempts of salvation, giving the humble and holy nod to Jesus’s death and resurrection in our place for our sins. Abandoning our ways and agreeing with God’s.
Letting go of your morality and letting Jesus be your substitute is right. Even though “letting God” language makes my theological hairs stand up, we can take a deep breath and understand the sentiment. It means we agree God’s way is true. It is right to look away from our attempts to save ourselves and looking to God’s work, God’s gospel.
In conversion, we let go and look to Jesus. But for sanctification? Smh.
For Sanctification, Hold Fast, Strive Forward, and Trust God
Do we put sin to death by letting go and letting God? Does a man learn to love his wife like Christ loves the church by going into neutral? Is an enslavement to pornography shattered by standing still? Are idols destroyed by going idle? Of course not.
Growing in Christ, sanctification by the Spirit, is not taking our hands off the wheel, proclaiming, “Jesus take the wheel.”
I can see one instance where believers could be told to let go and let God, and it’s with anxiety, worry, and fear. When a swell of anxiety—a sense of losing control–strikes, we should be told, “You need to trust God. Your Father knows what you need. He feeds the birds. Aren’t you more precious to him than a pigeon?” If letting go and letting God is about trusting him, that’s true. We must continue to trust God in all areas of our lives. But rather than letting go, the New Testaments tells us to hold fast. Hands on the wheel. Ten and two. Pedal down. Plodding ahead.
Hebrews and Holding Fast
The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God,” we don’t let go and let God, rather, “let us hold fast to our confession” (Heb. 4:14 CSB). We clutch the truth of Christ and the truths of the gospel, endure suffering, battle temptation, and strive for holiness (Heb. 12:14).
In the battle of temptation, even if we lost, we don’t throw our arms up. We get a grip on our confession: Christ died for my sins—this sin!—and rose again for me. And then we, by faith, rejoice that, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need (Heb. 4:15–16). We hold fast.
Let’s not let go. Let’s go to the throne of grace for help.
Paul And The Coffee Shop
If the apostle Paul overheard these college students at the start of this article, what do you imagine he’d say to them?
“Sisters, what do you mean ‘Let go’? No, no, you should:
- “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12—13 CSB).
- “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11 CSB).
- “Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22 CSB).
- “Sisters, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, because if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:12–13 CSB).
Rather than letting go, we hold fast, surge forward in faith, believing God is really at work in our efforts. We walk by faith. We pray for God’s help as we approach a conflict in relationships. We believe the Spirit is helping us say no to sexual immorality. We let go of our cobbled together Christian-ish way of things and look to Christ. This is the Christian life.
“Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:13 CSB)
Theology books seem to grow on trees. And like fruit, they are either bright to the tongue, packed with smile-inducing flavors and vital nutrients—or they are rotted with worms.
Let’s avoid the last category, mkay?
Brandon Smith and I wrote an intro to theology, crammed with pineapple sweetness while flowing with the essential vitamins—like the green sludge juice bars are hawking these days. Our book, Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians, is a smooth drink of theological waters.
In Rooted, we cover a good amount of terrain.
Russell Moore writes in the foreword,
“I’m afraid many people think of theology the way they think of chess. They know it takes skill and intelligence. Maybe they wish they were smart enough to play chess, but, then again, they really wouldn’t want to be part of the high school chess club. Theology seems, to them, to be dry, dusty, complicated, and disconnected from life—maybe even disconnected from the spiritual disciplines of being a Christian. If that’s you, or if you know people who feel this way (and you do), this book will help you.”
Scott Sauls, author of Befriend, says about Rooted, “It has been said that theology is like a skeleton. It is essential for providing support and structure to the body, but if it’s the only thing visible, then the body is either malnourished or dead. Theology as it’s presented in Rooted is the furthest thing from malnourished or dead. This book attempts, quite successfully I believe, to steer the imagination fosters life, and a faith that expresses itself in love.”
Dane Ortlund, Trevin Wax, Barnabas Piper, and Matt Smethurst all had very nice things to say about Rooted—which is cool. But, this means they feel this book can be used by God to help you grow.
Buy a copy of Rooted on Amazon. It’s ideal for reading in a small group, a Sunday school class, or on your own. If you buy it, I’d love to hear what you think.
Nick Batzig and the Christward Collective let me run a new piece over there on our present-day worship services and reverb of the Reformation:
“You’ve heard that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Fair enough. But in light of the 500th year celebration of the Reformation, those who don’t know history are doomed to under-appreciate it. We should celebrate and rejoice in the rediscovery of, as Ray Ortlund says, ‘the gospel doctrine’—but let’s remember the revival of a gospel-centered worship culture in the Reformation. The Reformation was a resuscitation of faithful doctrine and the reshaping of the worship practices of local churches. Reformation theology led to reformed doxology.
There are multiple elements and practices in our churches that we take for granted. We wrongly assume that the rhythms of our worship, and the joys of local church fellowship under the reign of Christ have always been like this. We couldn’t be more wrong.
By God’s grace, we can thank the Reformers for a bounty of blessings that we experience on a weekly basis in our local church gatherings. Whether you are Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican or Non-Denominational, you have the Reformers to thank for the right administration of these things.”
Head to the Christward Collective and read the five things in our worship services that we no have because of the Reformation.
“But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.” (Heb. 3:14 CSB)
A God-given antidote to the hardness of heart, to unbelief, to rebellion, are the voices of God’s people. Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are an anti-clot medicine. We can’t watch our hearts on our own. We aren’t meant to.
We need encouragement from each other. Encouraging each other to follow Jesus, reminding each other of forgiveness, how we have new life in the crucified and resurrected Christ. We need to be encouraged with the gospel truth that we are not defined by our sins; we are not the sum of our success and failures—but we are in Christ.
Not The Ministry of Guilt
Notice, this is the ministry of encouragement. It’s not one of guilting. Not shaming each other, not convicting each other, not telling each other how disappointing this is. When has this ever helped anyone who’s confessed sin?
Far too many accountability times can drag down to the devices of demons. We don’t need fingers wagging and pointed in our face. We need hands on our shoulders, arms wrapped around us, encouraging us to remember Jesus. This is the ministry we all need, and one we can all give.
Every Christian Has This Ministry
Everyone is in this ministry. Sometimes, when people are looking for places to serve in a church, I’ll hear things like, “I don’t know what I can do.” Well, this is it. Encourage others. “I don’t know how to get plugged in.” Hebrews 3 is your ministry.
Who can you do this for in your life? Who is doing this for you? How will you do this? How can we do this daily? This is more challenging for us in our context than the original audience of Hebrews. They lived in a much closer proximity to each other and saw each other more often. Our lives are (too) busy, in the hustle and bustle, stacked with hobbies and kids sports—this is tough. But we have technology. We can text. We can email. We can call. We can post encouraging things on social media. We can get creative with the common grace of technology to make an effort toward encouraging others.
Who will you encourage today? Tomorrow? “While it is still called today”? Until Christ returns or we go to him, this is our calling toward one another. It’s super important because sin and the satanic powers don’t take vacation days.
Getting Duped by Sin Doesn’t Take Long
How often does the writer of Hebrews say we need this ministry of encouragement? Daily. This is striking.
“Daily” shows us how much we need the encouragement of others. However much we think we need this, are estimations aren’t even close to the reality.
Second, how long does it take for us to be deceived by sin, and do something we will regret? A day. We are a sunrise and sunset away from making a destructive choice, being duped by sin. As a pastor, I know this all too well. Pastors often have front-row seats to people self-destructing.
I’ve had a woman look me in the face and say the Holy Spirit is leading her to divorce her spouse. I’ve had a man say he can date a married woman because God freed her from her marriage. And, I’m not lying, this woman and this man used to be married to each other. The deceitfulness of sin.
The examples go on:
- “I know the Bibles says fornication is wrong, but we are different, I know God will forgive us.”
- “I know I shouldn’t commit adultery, but you don’t understand my situation.”
- “I know the Bible says to be kind and forgive, but if you knew what they did…”
We’ve all have pockets of this in our hearts towards sins we want to give a pass. Anger, bitterness, gluttony, drunkenness, laziness, on and on.
God has given us his word and each other to combat sin, temptation, and hardening of the heart. We are to encourage each other to honor Christ.
We need daily reminders of Jesus and the gospel. The satanic powers don’t take days off. They don’t have weekends. So, this means a Sunday worship service and two hours in a small group isn’t a wise way to wage spiritual warfare. We need a daily help. Daily. Daily hearing of God’s voice in the Word, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Heb. 3:15), and daily encouragement from one another. This is your ministry.
The Solas have to be more to us than historical landmarks, relics from the Reformation. Scripture Alone has an undeniable effect on our lives and the culture, eco-system, and vibe of our churches.
To really live Sola Scriptura is to believe and grasp the sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible is sufficient, powerful, for all of your life in Christ. You don’t need John Piper’s podcast. You don’t lack anything if you can’t buy the Christian “Book of the Year.” These are all helpful and wonderful things, but if you have God’s word, you have the food you need. And this word leads us toward living with God, how to live for God, how to walk in the power of Christ.
In a way, Scripture Alone sets us free.
Scripture Alone Frees Us From The Tyranny of Human Opinion
In the Reformation, the people were weighed down and held captive to the words of men, Popes, Priests, and the Catholic Church ruled over the people.
When Luther was put on trial by the Church, and told to take back everything he said. He refused. He said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
Knowing the Bible sets you free from the tyrannical scepter of human opinion. “The Truth shall set you free.” This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to the biblical counsel and wisdom and Christian friends. Of course, we should; the Bible instructs us too.
Sola Scriptura means the Bible is the ultimately authoritative word in our lives because it is the word of God. No priest, Pope, professor, pastor, or person in our church can pull rank of the revealed word of God.
When a church is living Sola Scriptura, we hear more, “The Bible says…”, and less, “I think…”.
Pastors and Sola Scriptura
As a pastor, I am not anyone’s ultimate authority. Pastors are one authority. We don’t believe in Solo Scriptura, meaning that we only listen to Scripture and nothing else. That goes against the very testimony of Scripture. Pastors are only one authority in the Christians life, even other Christians are another authority in our lives, but it is the Bible, that has the ultimate and final say. If I step outside the Bible, I’ve lost my authority. In speaking with another Christian, if you contradict the Bible, go against what God has said, you are outside of your jurisdiction.
As a pastor, if I want people to listen and heed my counsel more than I want them to listen and obey the Bible, I’m in trouble. Our job is to feed people God’s word and to help them eat and drink from God’s word when we aren’t present. Sola Scriptura means we don’t create a pastor-dependant church culture. Pastors who believe Sola Scriptura will pump the brakes, and make sure they are in line with God’s word.
Sola Scriptura changes our sermons. Instead of gathering verses to support the preacher’s point, the preacher finds the point from the passage. He preaches God’s message, not his. This doesn’t mean topical sermons are bad; it means topical sermons better be a topic God is addressing from that text.
If the Bible is a crutch, platform, or a prop to help the preacher say what he wants to say, he doesn’t believe in Sola Scriptura. He might as well be a Pope. The Bible isn’t our mouthpiece to say what we want. Preachers are proclaimers of God’s word. God’s.
A true Sola Scriptura will exalt the Savior. The Scriptures are all about him. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).
Sola Scriptura means we aren’t held captive to gimmicks, trends, and church growth schemes. We are ministers of the word.
Sola Scriptura Means We Don’t Go Beyond The Bible
Paul shows this example of Apollos and himself to the Corinthian church—and us— saying, “I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). Paul and Apollos lived Sola Scriptura. They didn’t want to go beyond what was written—or even what was being written.
Are there areas in our churches where we go beyond what is written? Do we make new laws where God has not laid any down? Do we create additional requirements for elders and pastors that God has not required? Are we calling things sin the Bible doesn’t? For example, saying alcohol is sinful is to deny Sola Scriptura. The Bible doesn’t call it sinful. Some denominational traditions might call it sinful, but that’s not what God says.
To go beyond what is written is to betray the Bible—it is exalting tradition over truth. Anytime our opinions, preferences, or traditions get puffed up; we are in danger. Our worship is in danger. We aren’t held to the commandments of men.
“In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mark 7:7 ESV)
It is vital for us to know the Bible, to speak in agreement with God’s words, so we can serve one another in the way of Christ and not the way of Satan.
The Serpent hates Sola Scriptura. He loves to add to the Bible. He wants us to think more highly of our thoughts and think lesser of God’s. But we fight with the sword of the Spirit, the Scriptura of God.
We need a Personal and Communal Sola Scriptura.
This means we are thinking in the realms of our personal lives—my growth in Christ, my home, my marriage, my job, my sphere:
- What Does the Bible say about this?
- What Does the Bible require of me?
We ought to live in functional Sola Scriptura, where the Bible is our go-to source because this how God reigns over his people. It is God speaking to us.
A church-wide Sola Scriptura means we are encouraging one another, letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly, helping each other follow Christ with the word of God. A church committed to Sola Scriptura will revere the word of God, exposit the word of God, and crave to hear the words of God.
Our counseling ministries become extensions of ministering God’s word. They don’t offer life tips. They shine the light of God’s word on a situation. Our student and children’s ministries aim to help students and kids know God’s word, and what God reveals in his word—the redemption offered to sinners in Jesus Christ.
Sola Scriptura changes our churches. We cling to the word. Think with the word. Live from the word.
With a new year, there’s a new ambition to read the Bible, to grow in godliness, and glorify God. Hallelujah! No one should discourage or throw shade on a fresh zeal for God and his word. Desiring new rhythms, devotionals, and habits for holiness are a wonderful ripple effect from a God-hungry heart.
In addition to reading God’s word, other books often swim alongside the whale of the word. Devotional books are the species of literature resting near a Bible. And in this species, there are some bad, bad—yes, bad—books.
Devotional books are some of the most dangerous books on the market. Given their ideal, quick burst style, they also have the potential for unintended abuses of God’s word, a mishandling of context, or, worst of all, a contorting of Christ from the center, putting the Christian in the spotlight. When devotional books are more, “Rah! Rah! You rock!”, and less, “Behold the Lamb of God!”, they are toxic.
The best devotional books remind us what’s been done for us, rather than shelling out behavior modification tips. When we behold Christ, we become more like Christ—we behave, obey, and live like Jesus with Jesus.
We need gospel-riveted devotional books.
Here are a five of devotional books I’ve used, love, and recommend. I even wrote one.
You can’t go wrong with the Spurge.
Written in a first-person style, Joe’s writing is clear, pointed and to the point, and full of gospel hope.
If you’ve read Piper before, you know what to expect. If you’ve never read him, this is an excellent way to wade into Piper’s work. His passion for God, and for you to enjoy God, will refresh you.
Tripp is a gospel guru. And I mean that in the nicest, most honoring way possible. Paul is not only an excellent writer but God has given him a unique way of shining the gospel’s power and hope.
I tried to do a few things when writing this book. I hope you see the simplicity and supernatural power of the gospel—and what it means to live a gospel-centered life. In 27 writings, you’ll see how the gospel forms your identity, worship, community, and mission. I’ve heard from missionaries who are using this book to teach people the gospel and its shockwaves. I’ve seen church-planting core teams read Gospel Formed for the shaping of the church’s culture. I’ve had folks who are new to the gospel-centered idea tell me it’s the most helpful book they’ve read on the gospel. I hope you buy it. I hope God uses it in your life.
In fact, the first three people to hit me up on Twitter, Email, or Instagram, saying they want a copy of Gospel Formed, I’ll send you one.
“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.'” – Mark 2:5
Jesus is teaching and healing, and the masses are flocking to him. Jesus sits in a crowded house; no one can get in. Unless, the roof is an option.
Friends of a paralyzed man, rip up a roof, and lower their friend to Jesus—confident Jesus will heal their friend.
Jesus did more.
He forgave his sins.
The scribes couldn’t believe what they saw. “How can Jesus say he forgives sins!?” I get what they are saying. Anyone can merely say they forgive sins, but only God can forgive sins.
So, Jesus turns and says:
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—he said to the paralytic—”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” – Mark 2:10-12
Jesus proves he can forgive this man’s sins by healing him. No one can nonchalantly say to a paralyzed man, “You are healed”—the proof is in the person. If he can’t walk, he ain’t healed. Jesus is showing how his words aren’t just words. He’s not a man of lip service. His words have promise, power, and authority—the ability to fix broken cells, muscle tissue, and nerve endings. He has powerful words toward our sins.
Jesus offers and grants us forgiveness of sins. Whatever we think we need most in this life, forgiveness from God is first. We need reconciliation with God. More than physical relief, even healing from paralysis, we need forgiveness. Healing is a grand blessing, but it is still a lesser blessing to the forgiveness of sins. Jesus has compassion on the sick, this is obvious in the Gospels. So, this isn’t to belittle his healing or our sicknesses—this is to magnify the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus’ came to save the lost more than anything else.
What do you want most from God? The job of your dreams? A nicer house? A spouse? How about the forgiveness of your sins?
Jesus died in our place, on the cross, to forgive our sins—to pay for them. He rose from the dead victorious. And a day will come when every Christian—those who’ve had their sins forgiven—will rise from the dead with new bodies, ready for eternity on the New Earth. Cancer will be no more. Poverty will be extinct, and crime will cease to exist. But forgiveness of sins comes first.
Have you asked God, by faith to forgive you, based on the merits of Jesus? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
If you have, praise God! Like the crowds who saw Jesus perform this double miracle, let’s be amazed. Let’s glorify God. We’ve never seen anything like the grace of God.
500 years ago, an agitated and gospel-awakened monk hammered ninety-five thoughts to a door. And this changed the world. Here I am, writing about it. Here you are, reading about it. TGC is throwing a conference on it. Amazing.
The Reformation was an incredible act of God’s mercy. The Lord used clay pots like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, to pour forth and display the glories of his grace. The recovery of the pure gospel is what we remember—what we live.
Many blessings and gifts flowed from Germany, Geneva, and from places not so famous. The Five Solas of the Reformation are a perennial reality and gift. These Latin rally cries of the Reformation cannot be forgotten. They shaped Protestantism.
- Sola Scripture: Scripture Alone
- Sola Fide: Faith Alone
- Sola Gratia: Grace Alone
- Solus Christus: Christ Alone
- Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God Alone
The Solas were the banners Protestants waved in the Reformation. Sadly, it’s like these banners are now hanging in the rafters of our churches. The Solas aren’t meant to be neat phrases on our websites. The Solas are designed to be on-the-ground, in the culture, in the bloodstream of our churches. They should still shape us.
In this series, I want us to look at each of the Solas, not as distant theological affirmations, but as distinct, present, flavor, and fuel in the life of our churches.
How does Sola Scriptura change our preaching style and sermon series ideas? How does Sola Scriptura reform the way church members handle their different opinion and theological disagreements?
How does Christ Alone transform our biblical counseling ministries? How does Christ Alone change the curriculum in our children’s ministries?
Shouldn’t Grace Alone create a gracious church? How can Sola Fide flip the way we talk about suffering or spiritual disciplines? Does Soli Deo Gloria matter to our mission trips and missions dollars?
Living The Solas
Join me in this new blog series on the Solas. Next week, we will look at Sola Scriptura. If we genuinely believe these five banners, they will be lived. More than affirmed, they will be acted on. Personally. Church-wide.
Let’s live the Solas in our churches, in our lives, in our communities—this is what it means to be Protestant, to be Reformed, to live for the glory of God.