Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Theologian Trading Cards Review

Since Norm isn't one to toot his own horn, I figured I'd do it for him. The first review for the Theologian Trading Cards came across my Google Reader this morning from Bob Hayton of the blog Fundamentally Reformed. He recommended them with only a couple of critiques, but to be honest, I imagine this project would be an impossible task for any theologian without a few disagreements somewhere from someone. Here's how he rounded out his review:
By and large they are informative, interesting and fun. The cards are attractive and will appeal to those of a Reformed or scholastic bent. I can envision them being used in homeschools and Christian schools in the junior high to high school level, or even younger than that. They will spur more research into the various figures, but I’m not so sure they’ll actually be traded. Since you get the set, there’s nothing to trade for. Unless teachers use them as rewards and then, the trading would ensue!
These cards would make a great gift for a young theologian-to-be, and I expect they’ll find their way beneath many a Christmas tree this year. If you’re looking for more ways to keep your children interested in the study of the Christian faith, this set will be a tool you won’t want to ignore. (click here to read the full review)
A couple fun notes:
  • Bob listed all of the different "teams" that Norm used for his theologians. I think my favorites are the Orthodoxy Dodgers (Heretics) and Wittenberg Whistle-Blowers (Early Reformers and Later Lutheran Church). 
  • The set is 34% off retail on Amazon right now for preorder! ($17.81, retails as $26.99)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Character connected to performance

Aristotle said years ago that a person’s credibility as a speaker is a product of his character and his competence. Someone said years later, “Your character is who you are in the dark.” When no one is looking, the choices you make reveal your true character. Your competence is your ability. When Aristotle’s students asked the famous philosopher which of the two was most important, he said, “If you can only have one, have character.” He explained that people will be persuaded much more readily by an incompetent speaker who is an honest man than by a skillful orator who is a liar.

Given the landscape of politics and business and even church life that we see today, would the Greek great say the same? Probably since the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon was caught in a coverup that eventually ended his presidency, the nation has repeatedly asked the question, “Is there a connection between character and performance?” And, “Should it matter how leaders carry on in their ‘personal lives?’”

Kent Hughes said the comparison is often made between an airline pilot and a head of state. “Who would you rather have at the control of the plane? A competent pilot with moral weakness or an incompetent pilot with moral character?” The problem with comparing a pilot to a president is obvious, isn’t it? Flying a plane is not an intrinsically moral task. But piloting a nation is. That’s why the Bible says, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.” If we do even a cursory examination of why various kings of Israel failed, we find it was always because of matters of the heart, who they were, and not matters of intellect or ability. Their character was tried in the balance and found wanting, not their competence. Leading a nation is a moral task. The Bible makes that clear. So is leading a church. And leading a family. Even leading a business.

Paul compares the church to a “great house” in his second letter to Timothy, and in every great house, Paul writes, are vessels of honor and dishonor. Timothy would have known immediately what Paul was talking about. I think we do, too. In our basement, for example, we have dog bowls that Buddy and Ginger used before they went to their great reward. We have never once used those bowls to serve guests their soup. We don’t bring them up from the basement and serve our grandsons oatmeal in them when they come over. No, they are dog bowls. We also have fine china that we pull out for special occasions. We never once let Buddy or Ginger use those. There is a clear separation in the big house between vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor. It is the same in the church.

So, what does it take to become a vessel of honor in the church? Paul says it plainly: “If anyone cleanses himself ...” The offer is to anyone. Tax collectors like Matthew. Sheepherders like Amos. Fishermen like Peter and John. The offer has a condition: The one who is most useful to the Master is a clean vessel. Before you run to get the soap, the kind of “clean” God is talking about here is of the heart, and only He can do that. And He does, with everyone who comes to Him broken and repentant.

Is character connected to performance? Inextricably. That should influence how we vote. More importantly, it should influence how we live.

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at

Monday, October 22, 2012

A woman every believer should know

My wife spoke at a conference recently and asked eighty women, “How many of you have heard of Elisabeth Elliot?” Only twenty hands went up. Cindy proceeded to share Elisabeth’s story, which really began in earnest after her husband Jim was speared to death on January 8, 1956 by the same men he was trying to reach with the Gospel. After Jim and four others were killed, Elisabeth stayed on the mission field, saying, “It gives me a much more personal desire to reach them. The fact that Jesus Christ died for all makes me interested in the salvation of all, but the fact that Jim loved and died for the Aucas intensifies my love for them.”

Almost three years later, Elisabeth took her three-year-old daughter Valerie to live with the tribe of Aucas that had killed her husband. Elliot’s book, The Savage, My Kinsman, is the story of those two years living in the jungle. She wrote a letter on October 13, 1958 to the other widows about her experiences in the first five days: I have now met four of the seven men who killed our husbands. It is a very strange thing thus to find oneself between two very remote sides of a story. To us, it meant everything in life and continues to mean that. To these simple, laughing, carefree forest people, killing five men was little more than routine and they had probably nearly forgotten about it. The story as I have managed to get it thus far, is that the men were all on the beach. The Aucas leaped suddenly out of the forest from behind the tree house and killed them immediately.

Oct. 18 - Breakfast this morning was roast monkey. It is quite impossible to bite monkey flesh--you simply clamp your incisors on it and tear). It is a comfort to know that meat is easily digested even if not chewed!

Yesterday afternoon it rained and blew hard. I saw again how sensibly these people have adapted to their environment. Of course, the rain blows straight through the house. What does one do? One blows up the fire, hangs up one’s few possessions in a carrying net under the ridge pole and stretches out in the hammock. You get wet, naturally. What matter? The fire keeps you warm and as soon as the wind dies, it dries out your hammock.

…the first day we arrived, Valerie just sat down on the log which Kimu was squatting on and stared and stared. Then she said “Mama, who IS that? Is that my daddy? He looks like a daddy.” Somehow, in her child’s mind, she had associated Aucas and daddy--though I’d never told her till a few days ago that the Aucas had killed her daddy. I waited till she had met five of the men and then I told her that those men had killed daddy. She said, “Oh.” She prays for them and for the others she knows by name.

Elisabeth Elliot is suffering with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home. She is a treasure to the church and will be celebrated and missed when she is gone. But her legacy lives on in the books she has written, the radio show she hosted for years, and especially in the lives of the men and women who came to faith in Ecuador through the death of Jim Eliot and through the sacrificial love of his wife.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

J. Mark Fox is the author of A Faithful Man, his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Rd. in Elon. You can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at                                                          

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Links I Liked 10.20.12

Fact Checker: Do Faithful Christians Take the Bible Literally?
(Glenn T. Stanton of Gospel Coalition)
. . . I usually answer my questioner, to their great surprise:  "Well no, I don't take the Bible literally." I then pause for effect, both for the sake of the non-faithful as well as for the Christians in the audience.

Reading the faces of the cynics in the audience like a book, I see that unmistakable gaze of, "Oh, what a pleasant surprise. He's not one of those."

Then I clear up the obvious confusion. "I don't take the Bible literally, but I do believe everything in the Bible as true." . . .

Mr. Candidate, How Does Religion Inform Your View on Abortion? 
(Amy Hall of Stand to Reason)
In the vice presidential debate last week, this question was asked of the candidates:
I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion. Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that. And please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country, please talk personally about this, if you could.
The two candidates focused on the idea that life begins at conception, but I don’t think that's where the true controversy lies. Here’s how I would love to hear a pro-life politician answer this question in two minutes: . . . 

Should We Baptize Upon Profession?
(Mike Leake of Borrowed Light)
. . . In America (especially in the South) people will get baptized just to please their dear old grandmother.  That is not the case in other contexts.  Where persecution is ever present, as it was in the New Testament, saying “Jesus is Lord” is tantamount to saying, “I’m identifying with Jesus—take all my worldly goods and lop off my head if you must, but I’m following Him”. 
That’s not our context.

Our context is probably closer to that of John the Baptist in Matthew 3 when he called the Pharisees and Sadducees to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”.  In contexts where false professions seem to be running rampant, or when it’s beneficial to profess Christ, it is necessary that we be very cautious about not giving someone false security . . .

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jesus Christ: Our Peace Chief and War Chief

"In Native American Cherokee history, the Cherokee tribes had a political system for different challenges faced by their people. Recognizing different personality traits and leadership approaches, the Cherokee had two chiefs: one for peace and one for war. In times of peace, the peace chief ruled. In times of war, the war chief stepped in.

"What we find with Christ and his kingdom is that we simultaneously live in a time of both war and peace. We live in both, and Christ alone reigns in both. This is the tension of our lives, and it is the tension of living in God's kingdom in the present."

-Kelly M. Kapic, God So Loved, He Gave
Jesus Christ: Our Peace Chief 
    But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
(Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV)

    Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Romans 5:1 ESV)
For those who are in Christ, we find ourselves in a time of unprecedented peace. Never before have we enjoyed such a peace with the greatest power of the universe. While minor conflicts abound, we have been reconciled to the only one who can "destroy both the body and soul in hell".

And now we live under the governance and care of the one who has not only purchased our peace, but calls us to be a people of peace. "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." (Rom. 12:18) "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding." (Rom. 14:19) We should be a people who are marked and known by our bias toward reconciliation in every conflict.

Well, almost every conflict. . .

Jesus Christ: Our War Chief

    The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(Romans 16:20 ESV)

    For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
(2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV)
There is still a battle that must be fought. And this war is waged as much within our own hearts and minds (Rom. 7) as it is in the world and the spiritual realms around us. Do not make the egregious error of thinking our fight is against our fellow man—either in the neighboring house or the neighboring country—"for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Eph. 6:12) We must fight for our fellow image bearers—even while we fight against sin, Satan and his demons, arguments and lofty opinions raise against God.

This is the tension that we find ourselves in: living in a time of war and and time of peace. It takes wisdom, it takes community, and most of all it takes the Holy Spirit to know how to navigate this balance beam. And we must look to our war chief and peace chief to lead the way into the fight—and into the reconciliation.

Feedback: What do you find more difficult in your life right now, making peace or making war? Where in Jesus' own life do you see him as a war chief? Peace chief?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Don’t stop thinking about the Reason

As the story goes, a man was watching TV with his wife when the doorbell rang. He went to see who it was and found his friend on the doorstep . “What are you doing?” the friend asked. He said, “Watching a movie.” The friend said, “Oh, which one?” The man knit his brow and worked on that thought for a moment, then said, “What’s that flower called that smells good but has thorns?” His friend replied, “Rose?” “Yeah, that’s it.” The man then turned and called back into the house, “Hey Rose, what’s the name of that movie we’re watching?” Now there’s a man with a memory problem. His forgetter is working overtime.

It’s important to remember the names of our loved ones, and diseases that strip that ability away are cruel and unusual punishment. But what about those who forget the very reason for their existence simply because they are consumed with lesser things? Why would Paul write to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead?” Surely that is the last thing this young pastor would forget. Not so fast.You might argue that the banner over Israel in the Old Testament was, “They forgot God.” Moses said it this way near the end of his life: “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” It is one of the reasons why I believe Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper. “Do this,” he said, “in remembrance of Me.” It is a regular reminder for the body of Christ that employs all of our five senses as we taste, smell, touch and see the elements, and as we hear the Words that he spoke, “This is My body, broken for you … this is My blood, poured out for you.”

The Taj Mahal is perhaps the most beautiful structure in the world. It was built in the 1600s by an emperor for his favorite wife after she died giving birth to their 14th child. It took 20,000 men more than 20 years to build this magnificent shrine. The sad irony is that by the time the building was completed, the favorite wife had been gone so long that most in the empire did not know her memory and had no idea why the Taj Mahal had been built. They marveled at the edifice, ignorant of the life it celebrated.

It can be true of a church, can’t it?We build magnificent structures and cathedrals that dazzle the eye.We spare no expense to have the finest architecture, the tallest steeple, the largest sanctuary, or the most “cutting-edge” educational program. Then we drift away from center.We forget the reason we started the church in the first place. The stained glass windows tell the story of the Gospel that we long since quit preaching. “The Gospel? It is just too exclusive,” we say. “We need a more tolerant message.” The church bells still play the old hymns through the week, songs that we would be embarrassed to sing on Sunday. Songs like, “We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right.” Or songs like, “Jesus shall reign wherever the sun does His successive journeys run; His kingdom spread from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.”

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.We may forget who is enshrined in the Taj Mahal, because she is long gone. Jesus is not. He is risen from the dead. The living Savior is the very reason for our existence.

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore

Temptation is common to the human experience. And how we handle it is all too common as well, often either quickly caving or white-knuckling through it in sheer self-determination. So when we read the biblical account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, it is easy to see the overt supernatural elements at work, the magnificent scope of the seductions, and Jesus' flawless victory and see no connection between his testings and our own.

This is a mistake. In Tempted and Tried, Russell D. Moore magnificently draws the lines between the common temptations of the sons of men and the Son of Man. In his own words, "You will be tempted exactly as Jesus was, because Jesus was being tempted exactly as we are . . . You will be tempted to provide for yourself, to protect yourself, and to exalt yourself." Not only that, but he shows how the victory of Jesus reveals a power and promise of our own victory once we see it rightly. Again from Moore: "The same Spirit who led Jesus through the wilderness and empowered him to overcome the Evil One now surges through all of us who are joined by faith to Jesus. We overcome temptation the same way he did, by trusting in our Father and hearing his voice."

Russell structures the book around the three different temptations: self-directed provision, protection, and exaltation. Every enticement from Satan (and our own sinfulness) essentially tells us to cut God out of the loop and take matters into our own hands regarding our desires, our identity, and our future. Without getting clunky or wordy, Moore has crafted a book that is theologically rich, easily accessible and—more often than not—practical.

If I had one gripe about the book, it was structural. While I read quite a bit, the chapters felt too long (there's only seven chapters for a book of almost 200 pages). Publishers use tricks like short chapters and frequent section breaks within chapters to make a book feel more readable and friendly, but there are few of both here. It almost felt like a sermon series turned book where every chapter is a sermon.

That critique aside, Tempted and Tried is well worth the added work and discipline it takes to get through the long chapters. There are unique insights and deep wisdom that hold the gospel up as the only answer to true victory against our temptations—victory that exceeds white-knuckling it through our illicit desires and avoids jury-rigging the heart with fear or pride.

"The gospel exposes you as a sinner, and the gospel embraces you as a son or daughter."

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Every Christian struggling with a besetting sin, and every Christian who thinks they're not

You can buy Tempted and Tried from the Westminster Bookstore cheaper than Amazon right now. 

This book was a free review copy provided by Crossway. 

"Tempted and Tried" Trailer - Russell Moore from Crossway on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Pulpit and Politics

This past Sunday was an event called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday."

Here is a introductory video:

Certainly when it comes to politics and the pulpit, I agree that faithful preaching of the Word of God must address the moral issues of our day when the text of Scripture addresses them and according to the manner with which the Holy Writ addresses them. We should not cower when it comes to speaking the truth. If anything, the pulpit should be prophetic in the sense that like the Old Testament prophets we boldly proclaim the truth in a culture that largely rejects the truth.

Yet, I would argue that American nationalism and a quest to "save our nation" should not set the agenda for the pulpit. 

The week before Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I was preaching on Jesus' cleansing  of the temple. (I blog posted some thoughts here on the 'Cleansing'). Even though at the time I hadn't even heard of Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I briefly addressed the issue of politics and the pulpit because I believe it was a faithful application of the text.

One of Jesus' concerns in the passage is that the Temple had become a "nationalist stronghold" (C.K. Barrett, D.A. Carson) instead of being a house of prayer. It had been turned into more of a political and revolutionary symbol. It was a symbol of Jewish nationalism and anti-Roman ideology instead of being a place of prayer for Gentiles.

While there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the Temple of old and the church today, I think we should legitimately be concerned about the contemporary preoccupation with turning the pulpit into a place to address American values and American nationalism.

While Pulpit Freedom Sunday is one day a year and we should be concerned that we do not lose genuine freedom of speech from our pulpits, a more pressing concern among evangelicals should be the undo influence coming from those whose concerns are largely political and entail winning, maintaining, and/or recovering political influence. In our attempt to see that the pulpit is set free, we are pandering to a set of political values and the pulpit becomes a means to this end. 

In the applications of my sermon, here's what I said:
The Church in America today has become a place of nationalism and partisan politics. 
When evangelicalism is known more for it’s power as a voting block than for the power of God’s gospel—we have gone of the rails. 
If your concern is to see the pulpit rally the electorate, your priorities are misplaced. 
Let me be clear, Christians should take stands on ethical issues—especially abortion. You do not set your morals aside in the voting booth. We should evaluate the morals and ethics of anyone we vote for. 
But it is not the job of the church of America to save the nation of America—as a nation or a set of laws and ideals. Christians should be a salt and light in the community—but the job of the church is not to push a brand of American politics. 
I love our country and I love the freedoms it embodies. I believe our freedoms are God given rights. I believe despite stains in our history, like slavery, we have pursued our ideals and in pursuing those good ideals many people around the world have benefited. As a citizen, I want to see these rights and ideals preserved, but the church—as Christ’s body and Temple—has a higher calling to a higher Kingdom. 
America is not irreplaceable in the history of the world. America is not an irrevocable promise from God or the climax of God’s history of salvation. We do not nor did we ever have special privilege or pride of place before God. America is not sinless, nor is she mankind’s greatest hope. She is not the greatest force for peace and righteousness—that spot is reserved for Jesus. 
At best, America is a good page in the history of mankind and her preservation and voice for freedom has been used in a small way by God’s hand of providence. 
To the extent that the church today seeks as its mission to ‘save the country’ and support a national agenda is the extent to which we betray our heritage in an eternal kingdom. 
If you greatest fear/worry/ or anger right now is that __________ gets elected the country, you have a false hope. You are looking for man to save mankind. Your hope is largely misplaced. The American dream has never saved anyone and it will not matter one lick for eternity if we lose it.  
Just as Anti-Roman Jewish nationalism had no place inside the Temple because the Temple was to be a house of prayer for people of all nations so forms of American nationalism have no place inside the church.  
Do we value the ministry of the Word? The Word of God will address life issues in every area. The Word of God cannot be held captive to politics and nationalism. 
Is our church a house of prayer? 
Let me ask you this: would you be more interested in hearing a sermon on politics or America’s “Christian heritage” or more interested in coming to prayer meeting?

We'd love to hear from readers. Did your church address politics on Pulpit Freedom Sunday? What do you think the relationship between the pulpit and politics should look like?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Three pictures of faithfulness

Paul offers three pictures of faithfulness in his second letter to Timothy, which are suitable for framing. The first, not surprisingly, is that of a soldier. The two things that mark a soldier’s life are suffering and obedience. Soldiers expect to suffer, or “take their share of rough treatment.” Not true of most Christians: An easy life is an expectation for some, and an entitlement for many. Secondly, soldiers are trained to obey. Therefore, they do not entangle themselves in civilian pursuits because their sole aim is to please the one who enlisted them.

As I studied this passage, I was convicted how easily I can become entangled in a civilian pursuit, namely, watching too much sports on TV. Some of you are clucking your tongues at me because you could not care less about sports. Not so fast, friend. Maybe you get entangled in the latest movies or TV shows. Or in checking Facebook 64 times a day. Or in talking on the phone for hours while you should be doing other things. Whatever our “entanglement du jour” happens to be, each one keeps us from effectiveness on the battlefield. If the soldier is marked by obedience, the athlete is marked by determination.

During the decathlon competition of 1974 between the U.S., Poland and the USSR, a friend of the U.S. coach asked him, “Who is the best athlete on our team?” The coach pointed to a slender man, muscular and athletic-looking. The friend asked, “Will he win today?” “No,” the coach replied, “that young man will win.” He pointed to another athlete. “He’s going to win because he has the strongest will to win. He is the most mentally tough competitor I have ever seen.” Sure enough, Bruce Jenner went on to win that competition, and then to become the gold-medal decathlete in the 1976 Olympics.

In order to “compete” as Christians, we don’t need to be the most gifted, or the smartest or the best. But we do need determination to train hard in His truth and compete according to the rules God has clearly marked out for us.

If it’s obedience that is needed for a soldier and determination for the athlete, it’s diligence that is needed most for the farmer. He works hard. He’s up before anybody else is up, and he’s still working when everybody else is watching TV or reading the newspaper. And, he often works alone. He is not afforded the camaraderie of the soldier’s unit or the teamwork of the athlete. It’s just day-to-day, almost every day the same, with lots of waiting and patience and hard work. But the Bible says his reward is coming if he is diligent.

No farmer can just go out and throw seed around and then go to his vacation home, expecting to come back three months later and reap a harvest. Neither can a Christian father or mother do that. Alistair Begg says he is afraid we are raising up a generation of young people who are experts in unfinished business. He loves to tell young people, “Finish the bowl of Rice Krispies. Don’t leave those little pieces in the bottom!” They ask why.

“Because you might not finish your marriage if you don’t,” he replies. Some laugh and say, “That has to be the greatest non sequitur of all time.” Maybe so. Or maybe it points to a serious character flaw that is trained into young people who are allowed to quit anything that is difficult.

Obedience. Determination. Diligence. Why not hang these pictures on your wall?

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at

Friday, October 5, 2012

On Justification & Sanctification

Last week, Jared put this tweet up on the Christians in Context twitter feed:
"To the extent that you look to and trust in your justification, to that same extent you also grow in your sanctification."

I thought I would take a post to offer a few reflections on this tweet. While I will demur with some aspects of it, nothing should be taken in any other way than in iron sharpening iron. It is also entirely possible that I am over thinking a simple tweet but since the tweet caused me to reflect and since the tweet (I think) reflects, at least to some degree, a view of sanctification that is floating around in the evangelical world, I thought I would use it as a spring board for some thoughts.

First, I appreciate the sentiment that this tweet is expressing. Who has not grown in their sanctification by reflecting on their justification? Who hasn't had their heart warmed in its love for the LORD by reflecting on all that justification entails? When I pounder that my sole righteousness is found in Christ alone, and that righteousness is freely imputed to me, I have a motivation for holiness. As a pastor I have reminded people where they stand based upon Christ's imputed righteousness and used that ground as a pivot for the imperative of holiness. Precisely when I reflect on how much I cannot accomplish in my salvation, and that my salvation is all of grace, I realize that I live in completely freedom in Christ. True freedom in Christ always leads to a growth in holiness.

Second, I'm a little concerned about the language of "trusting your justification." I cannot think of any Biblical exhortation that we put trust in our justification. Certainly, we do not trust in justification to receive it and let me state clearly: the tweet is in no way advocating this. But there is nowhere in Scripture that growing in Christ involves trusting our justification. We are to trust Christ. Although, again clearly knowing we are justified in Christ does cause growth. The thing about twitter is of course space is limited.

Of course, trusting Christ will entail trusting the truthfulness of the full verdict of righteousness the Father has given us in Christ by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. Nevertheless, the object of faith is never the verdict itself. The object is Christ. And I trust the truthfulness of the verdict because I trust Him. I trust the declaration because I trust the declarer of it (the Father) and the ground on which it lies (Christ's death and resurrection). 

Finally, while reflecting on justification in profitable, it is not the primary means of our sanctification. Here I am thinking of a larger debate in the Reformed world that has spilled over into the Young, Restless and Reformed. I hope Jared will forgive me if I am reading to much of this background into the tweet.

How do I grow in sanctification? There is a popular view that sees sanctification as largely a subset of justification, distinct but still subordinate. Thus, we are exhorted that the primary (some might even say the only) way we grow in our sanctification is by becoming more comfortable with our justification. Some might even acknowledge a 'third use of the Law,' but in practice the exhortation of law is always bad, the gospel is truncated largely to simply justification and therefore sanctification is simply a matter of me 'getting used to' or fully realizing the justification I have.

I do not think this has sufficient warrant to the Biblical text.

Rather the proper context in which we should locate justification and sanctification is within the larger category of union with Christ. Thus, in Romans 6, sanctification is no merely 'getting used to my justification from chapters 3, 4 and 5. Rather sanctification flows from my full participation with Christ in his death and resurrection. I have died with Christ (which is more than justification) so now I should be living in Christ because I am actually raised up with Christ.

Paul's consistent use of union with Christ then leads from indicative to imperative. Indicative is who you are. Imperative is how you should now live. Indicative includes justification but it also includes sanctification. Why? Because I am now fundamentally and irreducibly in Christ. I have been given the Spirit, I am a product of the eschatological age--now I should live like it precisely because I have been reformed and equipped to live in it.

Back to the original tweet, there is not a simple one-to-one correspondence between reflecting on justification and growing in sanctification. If I ground my justification in what Christ has done and that I now have the verdict He secured because I am united to Him (and so the righteousness is imputed to me), it is out of that same union that the grace of sanctification flows to me. Justification and sanctification are always distinct, but inseparable because the grace of God comes through the believer's union to Christ.

Today (10/8/12), Kevin DeYoung posted this great tweet, which gets at what I was trying to say, only better and in less than 144 characters.
"Justification is precious fuel for our sanctification; it's just not the only thing we can put in the tank."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Here’s one way to help your marriage

I will admit it. I don’t listen to many podcasts. In fact, I don’t regularly listen to any. But every now and then I hear about one, usually from my wife, that is a must-hear. I would put Michael Hyatt’s latest podcast in that category. It is entitled “Four Commitments for Building a Successful, Long-term Marriage,” and it will take exactly 31 minutes out of your life. Michael is the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, and has spent his career in the publishing industry. He has also lived the last 34 years loving the same woman and with her, raising five daughters.

Michael usually speaks about leadership in his podcast, and he prefaced this one with these comments:
“…your marriage has everything to do with your effectiveness as a leader. Whether you realize it or not, as people observe your marriage, they make several inferences about you and your leadership:
  • They learn about your priorities and what matters most.
  • They learn how you treat the people who are closest to you.
  • They learn whether it’s all about you or you are a team player.
If your marriage is going to survive — and thrive — you will need to be intentional about it. Great marriages don’t just happen.”

His first commitment is, “Commit to continuing education.” Specifically, invest in the time it takes to get to know your spouse. Read good books on marriage. Go to marriage conferences. Get good, solid marriage counseling. Beware: Not all marriage counselors are created equal. Do your homework on this and get recommendations from people who have been helped through counseling. As for good marriage books, Cindy and I recommend “This Momentary Marriage” by John Piper.

The second commitment is, “Commit to spending time together.” There is simply no substitute for time alone with your spouse. It doesn’t have to cost money, but it will cost time away from the TV or the Internet or the cell phone or the myriad other things we can water while our marriage is withering on the vine.

The third commitment is, “Commit to following a specific set of boundaries.” Michael’s are the same ones that I have adopted for my own life and ministry. Do not go out to eat alone with someone of the opposite sex. Or travel alone with someone of the opposite sex. Or flirt with someone of the opposite sex. Those who regard these guidelines as rigid and restrictive may choose to ignore them. Many have, and the end result has sometimes been a marriage, family and career wrecked by an affair.

The fourth commitment is, “Commit to speaking well of your spouse.” Michael tells the story of going to a large and thriving church with his family years ago. The pastor was in his 30s, full of energy, a dynamic preacher and a warm, empathetic counselor. But whenever he and his young wife were together, they took shots at each other. At first it was all in jest, and others laughed. Then the comments got more biting. Michael and his wife ended up going to another church but heard later that the young pastor’s marriage ended in a messy divorce, and it was revealed that both spouses had engaged in a series of affairs. Here are just two benefits to speaking well of your spouse. One, “affirmation shifts your attitude toward your spouse.” Two, “affirmation wards off the temptation of adultery.”

The Bible says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all.” These four commitments may help us to do just that.

Go to for more.

J. Mark Fox is the author of A Faithful Man, his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at