Archives For gospel-centered

Having Jesus

Tim Brister —  December 15, 2014 — 1 Comment

Having Jesus, what has the believer more?

He possesses a righteousness in which God views him complete and accepted, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

Is not this a comfort?

To stand “complete in Him”—in the midst of many and conscious imperfections, infirmities, flaws, and proneness to wander, yet for the sorrowing and trembling heart to turn and take up its rest in this truth, “that he that believes is justified from all things,” and stands accepted in the Beloved, to the praise of the glory of Divine grace, what a comfort!

That God beholds him in Jesus without a spot, because He beholds His Son, in whom He is well pleased, and viewing the believing soul in Him can say, “You are all fair, my love; there is no spot in you”!

The blessed Comforter conveys this truth to the troubled soul, brings it to take up its rest in it; and, as the believer realizes his full acceptance in the righteousness of Christ, and rejoices in the truth, he weeps as he never wept, and mourns as he never mourned, over the perpetual bias of his heart to wander from a God that has so loved him. The very comfort poured into his soul from this truth lays him in the dust, and draws out the heart in ardent breathings for holiness.

– Octavius Winslow, Morning Thoughts, December 15.

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Growing up in North Alabama, I remember going through specific routines in the event of an emergency. I doubt there was a kid who did not know why or when you need to stop, drop, and roll. We were trained in protocols in the event of a tornado, calmly lining up in the hallway and securing our heads from potential debris. We knew how to exit the buildings in case of a fire in a single-file line to safe zones outside. All of these procedures were responses to various kinds of potential disasters we could encounter while in school.

Now what, do you think, are the possibilities that I as a kid in elementary school would actually need to follow through on those drills? How often would a tornado tear through our building? How often would a fire consume the classrooms? Hardly ever, it at all, right? But we were still trained in how to respond in the very unlikely event that they might occur.

What if I told you that on a daily basis you are going to be faced with potential crises or disasters that required a response from you? What if it was not a distant potentiality but an eminent reality? How would you prepare yourself for such situations? Would you be trained to know how to respond?

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So often when we introduce ourselves to other people, we describe our lives by what we do, not who we are. “Hi, my name is Tim Brister, and I serve as a pastor at Grace Baptist Church.” What we do has become the default way of defining our lives. This also plays into how or whether a person commits to making disciples.

As I mentioned in my previous post, every person needs a plan, but at the center of that plan needs to be the understanding that identity comes first. Who you are as a Christian defines what you do, not the other way around. If what you do defines who you are, you have the cart before the horse. Let’s face it: It is very easy to get so focused on making disciples (what you do) that you forget that you ARE a disciple of Jesus yourself.

In gospel-centered terminology, the indicative (state of being) always precedes the imperative (call to action). I believe the reason we have defaulted to defining our lives by what we do is because we have assumed who we are, or at least failed to acknowledge that reality. The most effective disciple-makers I know are those who are defined by who they are in Christ and live out those implications in what they do for the cause of Christ (make disciples). Paul was careful to make this point throughout his writing and ministry. In Ephesians, he spent 3 chapters telling believers who they are (identity) in Christ (gospel indicative). Immediately following was 3 more chapters telling believers how they should live out their identity (missional imperative) in the world.

When we fail to place our identity in Christ first and center our lives on who Jesus is and what He has done to make us who we are, we are in danger of turning disciple-making into an idolatrous act. It is not about us. It is not even about the people we are discipling (ultimately). It is about what God is doing by His Spirit to magnify Jesus as we become like Him and call others to believe in Him. Assuming our identity puts an inordinate amountsof pressure and weight upon us that we were never intended to carry, and so we as disciple-makers lack the motivation and means ti persevere in the mission. By failing to put our identity in Christ first, we find ourselves on dangerous grounds where we evaluate our worth in the kingdom by how successful we are in making disciples rather than Jesus’ successful work in making us His own. Our worth is defined by His work, not our own!

So what is my identity? It is who I am in Christ. I am a child of God adopted into the family of God. I am a liberated servant joyfully seeking to please my Master and Lord. I am a worshipper who delights in the treasure of knowing and being known by God. I am a representative of King Jesus, entrusted with His mission and message. I am who I am because of what Jesus Christ has done for me, is doing in me, and promises to do through me.

When you embark upon a plan to be a disciple-maker, keep front and center your identity in Christ. The gospel indicative is the fuel for the missional imperative. It is the safeguard from missional idolatry. It is the measure of missional faithfulness. It is the mark of missional fruitfulness. Before you make disciples, remember you are a disciple. And as you remember, be renewed again and again as you rediscover the beauty and majesty of the great and glorious Savior that is Jesus Christ our Lord.

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The Immanuel Mantra

Tim Brister —  January 6, 2014 — 2 Comments

I love this. So simple and clear. Also helpful for creating a gospel-centered culture in the church.

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Truly Getting the Gospel

Tim Brister —  September 4, 2013 — 1 Comment

The Bible is living and active (Heb. 4:11), inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16), and given for the purposes of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The Bible is all about God’s story of redemption centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the church where I serve, we say the gospel is all about (1) who Jesus is, (2) what Jesus has done, and (3) why that matters.

The gospel is the power of God (Rom. 1:16), and that power is demonstrated not only in our past rescue, reconciliation, and redemption but also in our present faith, hope, and love. Christians who truly get the gospel discover its power again and again on a daily basis. They get it in all three areas of text, context, and subtext because the gospel changes everything. The “living and active” nature of the Word is doing its effectual work as the Spirit convicts, renews, and reforms our lives in ways that demonstrate the transforming power of Jesus.

Text • Context • Subtext

The text addresses biblical revelation. God reveals Himself through His written Word and in His Son, the Word made flesh. The gospel is the message, the text above all texts, that reveals God’s sovereign purposes in history to unite all things in Christ. Truly getting the gospel means we understand that the gospel is normative and supreme in God’s dealings with us, and we humbly submit to the authority of God’s Word and what it says about us and our need for Him. We are committed to knowing the gospel truly and articulating it clearly because God has spoken on the issue definitively.

The context addresses life orientation. These are matters pertaining to what lies outside of us and how our lives relate to them and orient around them. Context includes our relationships to other people, daily circumstances, seasons of life, spheres of existence, etc. Truly getting the gospel means we recognize that context is the place where the gospel is applied. Living in light of the gospel is learning to work out our new identity in Christ in specific places, in specific situations, and with specific people so that the reign and rule of King Jesus is manifested in His Lordship through the context of our existence.

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Blind to Our Blindness

Tim Brister —  July 3, 2013 — 3 Comments

Paul Tripp, in his book Sex & Money, says the following:

“We would all like to think that no one knows our hearts better than we do. We would like to believe that others may be self-deceived, but we are not. It’s simply not true. Since sin is in its essence deceptive, as long as sin lives in our hearts, we will tend to be blind to the true condition of our hearts. But more must be said. Not only will we be blind to our hearts; we will be blind to our blindness, thinking we see when we really don’t. To add to this, we will participate in our own blindness. Because of self-righteousness of sin, we will work to make ourselves feel good about what is not good or believe that the problem is not, in fact, us.”

When I came across this paragraph this morning, I was struck by the need for gospel-centered community–a truly counter-cultural community. The worldly culture tells us that the center of our problems are out there, but the gospel tells us that the problem lies in our hearts. Only the gospel can bring transformation from within, and as long as wrongly diagnose the location of the disease, we will fail to access the cure.

Only a true grasp of the gospel can liberate us from the lies we have told ourselves. Not only are we  dishonest about our sin and neediness, but we are not fearful or closed off from inviting others to being honest with themselves and ourselves as well. Tripp is right. We participate in “the blind leading the blind” when we refuse to see sin rightly and live as a community that makes self-atonement by pretending and performing in attempts to circumvent the power of the gospel to change our lives. How blind are we? We would rather live in the chains of self-deception through the lens of pride than the freedom of self-discovery through the lens of Scripture.

A gospel-centered community is counter-cultural because it identifies the real problem (our hearts) and has the only, lasting cure to solve it (the gospel). Instead of pretending to be self-righteous, we give permission and invite others to help us change by exposing self-deception and blind spots in a community radically shaped by grace and governed by truth. I am not who I am in my pride and self-deception. I am who I am in Christ and my acceptance through his imputed righteousness and substitutionary death on the cross. The challenge is to live in latter through repenting of the former, and the counter-cultural community changed by the gospel will serve as the canvas upon which the sunrise of God’s Word illuminates our lives.

When I know my Sin-bearer drank the bitter cup and atoned for ever last one of my sins, why should I hide? What could be known about me that is not already covered in the blood? When I know that God’s righteous judgment of my sin was carried out on His Son in my place on that cursed tree, I live in the fact that there is no condemnation for me, and no accusation of the enemy can silence the Advocate whose precious blood speaks for me. If these truths are ruling the affections of our hearts, then we can live as a people who invite truth in the place of deception, believing that the truth will set us free.

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Grounded in the GospelIf you haven’t picked up Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way by J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett, you need to pick it up. It’s available right now on kindle for just $1.99. In the chapter on “The Gospel as of First Importance,” Packer and Parrett address the need for a “fully dressed” Gospel. They write:

Sadly, even tragically, evangelicals have sometimes been guilty of preaching and teaching a Gospel that is not, shall we say, “fully dressed.” They may have focused properly on the central features of God’s atoning work on the cross, faithfully preached Christ crucified for sinners, celebrated the resurrection as proof that Christ’s self-offering for our sins has been accepted, and urged hearers to be reconciled to God. In other words, they have been right about the essence of the gospel; the key facts have been there in what they have said. But at the same time they have missed some of the critical implications and applications of the Gospel for daily living.

[…] When we fail to conduct ourselves “in step with the truth of the Gospel” (Gal. 2:14), we are in serious error. We are to live in such a way as to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive to our neighbors (Titus 2:10) and to win their respect by responsible and godly living (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Thus our preaching and teaching of the Gospel–that is, our ministries and catechesis–must include teaching the godly manner of living that accords with sound doctrines of the Gospel (Titus 2:1).

[…] The Gospel is to be adorned by both sound doctrine and godly living. To set the Gospel before parishioners and public without these is to preach an unclothed Gospel.

Our salvation does not end at new birth. We are taught by Scripture to say not only that we have been saved (Eph. 2:8) but also that we shall be saved (Rom. 5:9-10; 13:11; 1 Pet. 1:5) and even now are being saved (Phil. 2:12-13; 1 Pet. 1:9). What is the power that saves us? It is the power of the Spirit at work in and through the Gospel (Rom. 1:16) to change lives. We need both a fully orbed doctrine of salvation and a “fully clothed” presentation of the Gospel. But we have often fallen short on both counts.

Packer and Parrett go on to show how older evangelicals have gotten the essence of the Gospel correct by neglecting the implications and applications of the Gospel (undressed Gospel). Consequently, newer evangelicals have stressed the implications and applications of the Gospel but neglected the essence of the Gospel, or even worse, sometimes substituted them for the essence of the Gospel. What we need is a robust understanding of the essence of the Gospel that is fully dressed with all the implications and applications of the Gospel for every aspect of life.

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If you believe in the centrality of the gospel, you know that the good news of Jesus Christ is not just the door to the Christian faith, but it is the entire house. It is not only the entrance point but the pathway on which we walk our entire Christian life. Therefore, the journey of the Christian experience is growing more and more in the gospel.

There has been some discussion and even debate as to whether all the talk about the power and centrality of the gospel is neglecting the power and necessity of being filled with the Spirit. Are we talking about the gospel to the neglect of the Spirit’s working in our lives? Are we substituting the gospel for the Spirit when explaining how we operate as Christians in the world? I think those are valid questions, and I want to briefly attempt to answer the question in this post.

I am convinced that the overarching purpose of the Holy Spirit in the world is to magnify Jesus Christ. One of the most fundamental ways to know if you are filled with the Spirit is whether Jesus is being magnified and glorified in your life. That’s what the Spirit does. Jesus is magnified in the Gospel–because it is all about who He is and what He has done for sinners. Therefore, it stands to reason that the Spirit’s magnification of Jesus will be through sinners reveling more and more in the glorious gospel of our Lord.

That’s the logic I see in Scripture, but how does it work out practically?

God’s gospel is robustly Trinitarian. God the Father administrates salvation; God the Son accomplishes salvation; God the Spirit applies salvation. In His application of the gospel, the Holy Spirit brings us a true understanding of and genuine experience in the grace of Jesus Christ. Without the Spirit’s application, the gospel would not only be theoretical but our treatment would be at best superficial.

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MosesOver the past several weeks my fellow pastor, Tom Ascol, has been preaching on the law and gospel while working expositionally through the book of Exodus. Yesterday’s message was on the lawful use of the law, and it was excellent. Anyone who wants to understand the relationship of the law and gospel should download that sermon. Very clearly and simply stated (I will try to post a link when it is available online).

One of the things that struck me in Tom’s message was the necessity to have a high view of the law for there to be a true gospel-centered culture in the church. The law represents the character and desires of God, and the higher we appraise the law of God, the higher our awareness is of His holiness, righteousness, justice, and all other excellencies inherent to His divine nature. We have a glorious God who graciously have us self-revelation so we would know what He is like, what He wants from us, and how we can live in a way that pleases Him. A high view of the law will bring draw this out.

Additionally, a high view of the law will expose the sinfulness and seriousness of sin. The law was never meant to make us righteous in the sight of God (legalism) but to cause us to look for an alien righteousness found in Christ’s life. That is why repentance is necessary to salvation – it is essentially looking away from ourselves, our attempts of being right in the eyes, our performances according to man-made laws to offer self-atonement. Not only that, but the right preaching of the law causes every mouth to be stopped (Rom. 3:19) as sinners realize there is no defense for our lives of lawless rebellion to the God who has rights over us as Creator. That’s the seriousness of sin, in that we have sinned against God, the one with whom we stand in judgment. According to Romans 7:7-12, we would not know sin apart from the law. The sinfulness of sin is exposed and even aggravated when there is a high view of the law (“through the commandment [sin] became sinful beyond measure”).

Together then, a high view of the law gives us a truer and deeper understanding of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. God is always more holy than we can perceive him to be, and we are always more sinful that we perceive ourselves to be. On the contrary, a low view of the law obscures beauty and brilliance of God’s holiness and gives damning comfort and false security to the sinner.

A low view of the law produces legalism, because the bar is so low that sinner’s feel justified in attempting to be made righteous by keeping it. A low view of the law also encourages sinners to substitute their own laws for the law of God, making self-righteous standards to live by, and judging others when they fail to live up to their own laws. Therefore, a low view of the law is the breeding ground for moralism where God is an utility to our self-righteous ends of moral justification (i.e., God helped me, not God rescued me).

A high view of the law leads Christ-centered, grace abounding salvation. With a clear view of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, there is a deep recognition and awareness of our need of reconciliation and redemption that can only come through the law-fulfilling life and sin-substituting death of Jesus Christ. You diminish the holy character of God and sinful nature of man, then the cross of Christ is depreciated and the gospel is cheapened. When there is a high view of the law, there is a corresponding high need for God to do for you what you are incapable of doing yourself–being made right in the eyes of God through grace.

If your desire is to be a part of a church that is saturated with gospel-loving, Jesus-treasuring, cross-exulting Christians, then it is incumbent that there be a high view of the law. A low view of the law leads to gospel substitutes. A high view of the law leads to gospel enjoyment and celebration. Don’t miss the relationship of law and gospel!

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CovenantHealthy churches have explicit pre-commitments in what they believe (confession), how they live together (covenant), and how they are governed (constitution). Of course there is more that constitutes a healthy church, but I would argue it is critical from the outset that a church make clear these commitments based on the Word of God.

I’m grateful to belong to a covenant community seeking to honor the commitments we have made to one another. As a community formed by the gospel, we seek to live together as repenters and believers. This important to remember when it comes to living out our covenant commitments because no one of us grounds our identity based on our sanctification or our ability to keep those commitments perfectly. Even the commitments themselves speak to this. For instances, God commands that we forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven us. That assumes that we live in such proximate intimacy that we are going to sin against one another and be offended/hurt by one another (the Bible expects this). The proper response (which the Bible expects also) is to lovingly engage the one who has hurt/offended us and seek gospel reconciliation by making peace through repentance and forgiveness. Others include bearing one another’s burdens (context is addressing a sinning brother) and loving in ways that records of wrongdoings are not upheld and hoping all things at all times is applied.

This is important to remember because we are in danger of misunderstanding grace-based church covenant and making it into a condition-binding contract. In a church contract, when the conditions are not met by other members in our church community, you feel that you are justified in leaving that congregation in pursuit of a more perfect community. The irony to such a response is that such a response is a sinful reaction that dishonors the gospel. The person may feel justified in leaving because their feelings were hurt or was sinned against, but such justification has nothing to do with living in light of our justification by faith in Christ.

How many people have left their church family because they got upset with someone and could not do Scripture tells us to do? How many people have left because their feelings were hurt, the preacher stepped on their toes, another member failed to show sympathy and concern in a moment of crisis, and so on? How many churches were started not as a new work but as a sin-laden schism because blessed peacemaking seemed beyond the reach of those harboring resentment, fear of man, and self-pity?

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