Washing Your Hands Isn’t Enough

The following post is Pastor Josh’s sermon manuscript from August, 16th, 2020. The text he preached from was Matthew 15:1-20 which is copied below (out of the ESV).

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people 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.’”

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

-Matthew 15:1-20

Introduction

To start our message today I want to bring up an ongoing issue in our home. 

Some of you who are parents will no doubt understand what I’m talking about here.

Here’s the issue: we make rules, but there are sometimes differences about how those rules are interpreted.  So take for instance, “no jumping on the couch.” 

Some of our more obedient ones in our home, take this rule as implying that there should be no standing at all on the couch… because if you stand, then you are inevitably going to jump or make a bouncing motion that resembles jumping.  So the “no jumping” rule also means “no standing on the couch.”  This additional rule was added to help people obey the no jumping rule.  Because if you are standing on the couch, you are probably going to be tempted to jump.

Some of our other little ones like to stretch the boundaries.  They think that this rule means that you can basically do anything on the couch that you want to, except jump.  You can run.  You can cartwheel.  You slam your brother or sister… Just so long as you are not jumping. This group will passionately insist that they were obeying the literal letter of the law and not being the rule breakers that the other group says they are.

Who is right? 

I think most of us would say that both groups are right about some things and wrong about some things. 

The Tradition of the Elders

As silly as this example that I’ve chosen this morning might seem, it actually is not too far from the way things were in Jesus’ day. 

For instance, take Sabbath observance.  God commanded that we work six days and that the seventh day be given to rest.  What does it look like to obey the Sabbath?  Is absolutely all work forbidden? Can you leave your house on the Sabbath day?  Can you perform a good deed on the Sabbath day? 

Much like the couch example in my home, there were respected and pious Jewish scholars who came up with their own interpretations about what Sabbath observance meant and over time these interpretations became a tradition.  This is what Jesus refers to here in verse 2 when he says the “tradition of the elders.” 

One example that I stumbled across in my study this past week dealt with the situation where someone wanted to give a gift to a poor person on the Sabbath day.  Given the command in Exodus 16 where it says that a person is not to leave their home on the Sabbath day, how would you give a gift to a poor person in need?  How can do this good deed without leaving your home and thus breaking the Sabbath command?  In the Mishna, which is a Jewish holy book, where much of this teaching is recorded, it wrestles with how exactly this transaction can happen. 

Leon Morris writes:

“If the householder stood inside his house and put his gift outside or if the poor person, standing outside, reached inside and took up the gift, in either case there was a transgression because a person had carried something out of a house on the Sabbath.” 

-Leon Morris in his commentary The Gospel According to Matthew, (PNTC, Eerdmans), p. 388

So these Rabbis came up with a solution. Morris continues:

“Neither person should cross the boundary carrying the gift.  But if the poor man stood outside and reached his hand inside and if the householder than placed his gift into the poor man’s hand, the poor man could withdraw his hand and neither had transgressed.  The same result of course was obtained if the householder stood inside and held his hand containing the gift outside so that the poor man, standing outside, could simply receive the gift… In this case there is no transgression: neither man has carried the burden across the line.” 

-Morris, Matthew, 388.

If you do this for the entire Pentateuch, those first five books of the bible, what you have is the “tradition of the elders.”

Now of course, here in our passage before us today, Jesus is not taking issue with their understanding of the Sabbath (though he does do that in other places), here he is taking issue with their teachings about the washing of hands. 

But maybe you’re asking what’s with the washing of the hands?

Hand Washing: Not About Hygiene

Now at the time, washing of hands was not something that was done for personal hygiene, it was done to prevent a person from becoming ceremonially unclean.  What that basically means is that these washings were to prepare a person to enter into God’s presence.  It was a way of acknowledging that a person was not worthy to be in the presence of the perfect Creator.  These washings were symbolic–not hygienic. 

We do these kinds of things all the time.  When I open the door for my wife, it is a symbolic act of love and respect and honor.  It’s not something I do because I don’t think that she is incapable of opening the door.  I do it to recognize that she has a special place in my life and as an act of service and love to her.  It’s an acknowledgment of something.

And so too these ritual washings were not actually about removing dirt or removing bad things from a person (they weren’t actually doing anything).  It was a symbolic acknowledgment that one was sinful and dirty and unworthy of entering into the presence of God which was a clean and holy and special place.  If one was to enter into the presence of the Creator, one must be clean.

In the book of Exodus (30:17-21) it was required for priests to wash their hands (and their feet) when they were ministering at the altar. In other words, washing of the hands was a ritual done at the altar to prepare the priest for his priestly service. If a priest failed to do this, he would be considered unclean and thus unable to minister at the altar.

But the tradition established by these ancient Jewish interpreters took this law and extended it to all people and into the realm of daily life requiring people to wash their hands before they eat.

In the Mishnah which is one of the places where these traditions are recorded, there is an entire section devoted to these laws that is just titled “hands.”  It talks about how this spiritual uncleanness can only be removed by running water so it must be poured over the hands and it discusses which parts of the hands are involved.  Some argue it’s up to the wrists while others believe only fingers are in view.

At first these many teachings were useful but over the centuries as more and more teachers added their contributions, some of whom were less wise, it had become an unhelpful and burdensome body of teaching. 

For most common people, all of this was just too much. 

So Jesus here in this story is going to address this group that has come all the way out to Galilee to speak to him about his disciple’s failure to wash their hands before eating.

This is Important

Now to us, on the surface, we see all of this as somewhat ridiculous.  Hair splitting nonsense.  We probably at first glance look at something like this and struggle to see the significance.  But if we are to really appreciate what is happening here, we must try and understand how this would have been perceived at the time. 

This was a very serious matter to pious Jews.  And there are a few things that Matthew records for us that give us indicators of just how serious this was.

Observe a few details with me in verses 1 and 2.

Notice how it says that the Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem.  In rural Galilee, to have religious leaders from Jerusalem, the holy city, the capital, would have been quite the ordeal. Their appearance would have been very noticeable and they would have been viewed by the locals as people of great authority.  Today, it would probably be something of the equivalent of a bunch of government officials from Washington coming to South Royalton to confront someone right on the street.  You know everyone would be out there with their smartphones out recording and taking pictures and it would be all over Facebook.  

Notice also that it says that they came to Jesus.  One commentator writes that it was not as though they came for a pastoral visit and happened to bump into Jesus.  No, they came with the exclusive purpose of confronting Jesus.  The fact that they would come so far outside of the capital to speak to Christ, tells us a little bit about the reputation of Jesus and also maybe just how opposed to Jesus they were.

Now finally observe with me in verse 2 that their critique is of Jesus’ disciples, not directly of Jesus himself.  “Your disciples break the tradition…” they say.  Of course, the critique of the disciples would indirectly be a kind of accusation directed at Jesus because he would have been the one teaching them to not regard the traditions of the elders.  This was more serious than just an occasional transgression of the tradition—someone accidentally not washing their hands for one reason or another or just some laziness…  (Just too tired at the end of the day to get up off the couch and wash your hands before shoveling down the pizza…)

Because Jesus was teaching his disciples to break the tradition, this was no accident, this was a systematic, principled practice.  So in the history and culture of the time, this was a serious infraction and we must try and keep the seriousness of this in front of us as we talk about something that to 21st century modernized people on the surface looks like a waste of breath.

So this was a big deal.

How Does Jesus Respond?

And Jesus’ response here is going to help us to see why all of this is so important.  Let’s look at how Jesus responds to their question in verses 3 through 6:

He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 

-Matthew 15:3-6

Notice in this response that Jesus totally ignores the handwashing issue—he makes no reference to it at all. Instead, Jesus goes much deeper.

Jesus wants to show them that in their zeal to help people obey God’s law, they end up breaking that very same law.  And he doesn’t point out how they do that exactly in the case of handwashing but instead uses this other example about honoring one’s father and mother. 

Why does he do that?

Well some suggest that Jesus does this because the command to honor one’s father and mother, was greater and more weighty than these minor regulations about the washing of hands.  Some rabbis would have even considered this command to be one of the most significant in all of the law.

So Jesus here is using the argument of the greater to the lessor and showing how the Pharisees need to stop pointing the finger at others for minor infractions and start looking at their own lives and how they have broken serious commands of God.  And in the history and culture of the time it would have been expected that a child care for their parents in their old age—this was a part of what it meant to honor them.  But what the Pharisees did was allow people to dedicate money to God that would have been used to care for their aging parents… and then the parents suffer. 

Morris writes:

“The tradition about the rash vow is honored, but the commandment of God is not kept.”

-Morris, Matthew, 393.

So what has happened is the Pharisees are enforcing laws that actually allow people to participate in the breaking of God’s laws.  The result is that they care more about the laws of men than they do the laws of God.  Which is more important?  God’s laws or man’s laws?

Some of us are so guilty of this too.  Oh how we look down at others for minor infractions and yet all the while are not fulfilling the more significant, weightier matters of God’s law.  We scoff because of the clothes someone wears or because of the music someone listens to or because they shop at Starbucks or vote in a way that irritates us.  Yet all the while, we are neglecting prayer and we are being unfaithful to our spouse or harboring hate in our hearts towards our neighbors. Oh, how guilty we are of this too.

Jesus says in verses 7, 8 and 9 that when we do that we are hypocrites:

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people 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 in Matthew 15:7-9, quoting Isaiah 29:13

And Jesus says that is exactly what is happening here in this instance with the hand washing.

How so?

Real Defilement Comes from Within

Jesus is now going to explain to us how the tradition of the elders was not helping people to obey God but was actually leading people into disobedience.

So, back to the couch example from the beginning of the sermon. Those kids who want to create new laws like “don’t stand on the couch” to help the other kids obey the “don’t jump on the couch” rule, actually end up creating more problems in the end. Fights are breaking out and people are getting angry and other things that are more important are being ignored.  The intention might be good at first but the end result is really bad.

And I want you to listen carefully because this is where the rubber meets the road for us too.  This is not just about what was going on in that time and place, this has to do with us also.

Look at verses 10 and 11 now.  This is kind of a transition moment in the passage.  Jesus has been addressing the Pharisees and now he calls the common people up to talk to him.  Far from being an irrelevant triviality, this is something that everyone needs to know:

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 

So before I get into the meat of what Jesus is saying here, let me quickly talk about this word “defile.”  That’s not a word that we use today very much.  It’s an archaic sounding word.  Most of us probably think about pollution or something when we hear that word.  You know like a factory dumping chemicals into a river.  That’s polluting or defiling the river.  It’s no longer pure and clean.  And that’s actually pretty close to the biblical meaning as well.

To defile here in this text is speaking of making something impure and unfit for God. So a person that is defiled cannot come before God and cannot touch anything that is dedicated to God until they have performed the necessary purification rites. Those might be washing or waiting a certain amount of time or presenting a particular animal to the priest to be sacrificed.

Okay, so now, with that in view, what is Jesus saying in verses 10 and 11? 

He’s saying that it’s not things like food and unclean hands and such that make us unfit for God.  It’s the stuff that comes out of the heart. 

Defilement was not something that happened from the outside of oneself but was something that originated on the inside of a person.

Think about the implications of that for a moment. 

[Pause]

Jesus continues in verses 15 and following:

But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

-Matthew 15:15-20

This would have been mind-blowing to the Jews of the day.  This is so different from the common teaching and practice of the day that Peter can’t even get his mind around it.

Maybe most concerning of all is that everyone does these things.  Everyone has committed at least one of the sins on that list.  If you haven’t you are way better than I am. 

And what this means is that we are all defiled, all of us are unfit for God.  All of us are unclean.  All of us have fallen short of God’s standard are not worthy to be in his holy presence. 

And no hand washing can take away the uncleanness in our hearts.  Just as eating with unwashed hands does not defile, neither does pouring water over the hands and wrists clean off the evil deeds that you and I have done.

How Does a Person Become Clean in the Sight of God?

But if we can’t just wash our hands or present an animal to the priest to be sacrificed.  What can we do?  How does one become clean?

We need a more powerful agent.  Something that goes deeper than water.  Our sins are like scarlet which cannot be washed away with mere water.  We need something greater.  The Old Testament prophets foretold a way that God would somehow remove the stains of our sins.  Isaiah 1:18 says:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:

though your sins are like scarlet,

    they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red like crimson,

    they shall become like wool.

-Isaiah 1:18

But how?  How is this dirt and sin to be cleansed?

Not through rule keeping and rituals.  Not through a perfect obedience to all the commands of God and doing the right things.  God has made another way. 

There’s a great hymn that says it well:

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins

and sinners plunged beneath that flood

lose all their guilty stains.

-Cowper, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”

A modern rendition of that hymns says

        Hallelujah fountain full of love for us

        Poured out on us

-Shane & Shane

This same Jesus who taught that mere washing with water would not prevent one from becoming unclean went on to offer his life as a sacrifice for you and for me, in love.  And anyone who would put their faith and trust in Him will be cleansed from their sins and granted eternal fellowship with God.

So God is inviting you into relationship with himself today and the way is not through washings and rule keeping, it’s through Jesus. 

If you haven’t already I invite you to put your faith in Jesus Christ today.

Amen.

Why Explore Christianity First?

So you’re a non-religious skeptic and you’ve just received a flyer in the mail from a local church about coming to one of their Easter services.  You’re tempted to just throw it in the garbage.

Your mind says that you should explore this religion first before just rejecting it out of hand.  To reject it without having properly investigated its claims or at least going to a few church services, would be intolerant.  

But if you’re going to explore this whole religion thing, why start with Christianity?  Why not start with Islam?  Why not start with something like Confucionism?

Before looking at the other religions, it makes perfect sense to check out Christianity first. In fact there are five reasons why you should consider checking Christianity out first.

It Makes Good Sense to Start with Christianity 

The first reason you should start exploring Christianity before any other religion is it is falsifiable. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, we have a verse that is abnormal in comparison to other religious texts.

and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without foundation, and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

-The Apostle Paul

This is the toughest way to start a false religion. If I were going to start my own religion, I would set it up to where the divine knowledge is found in you. After all that would be subjective and there’s no real way to falsify that way of thinking. Many of the world religions have followed a similar line of thinking. Hinduism, Buddhism and especially Mormonism rely on experience. Islam is slightly different because its truth claims actually rely on objective fact, however, Muhammad never gave his followers a way to verify his own claims. The closest thing we have to evidence in the Qur’an is that Muhammad said the Qur’an is so beautiful when read aloud that its beauty is self-authenticating. But even that claim relies on a subjective way of thinking and therefore doesn’t work.

A second reason a sincere seeker after truth should start with Christianity before any other religious tradition is grace. Why not check to see if Christianity is true if the easiest way to heaven is just by grace through faith? In the other religious traditions, you have to work and work and you may not even get into heaven after that. You could spend a lifetime working your way to God and never succeed. While on the Christian view, you receive forgiveness for the sins you have committed against God by turning from those sins and placing your trust in Jesus.

In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey relates a story about C.S. Lewis that I think is relevant. He writes:

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods’ appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. ‘What’s the rumpus about?’ he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, ‘Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.'[1]

-Philip Yancey

A third reason you should consider the truth claims of Christianity first is that Jesus is the very focus of it. So many of the world’s religious groups have an opinion on Jesus Christ and Jesus even appears in the sacred writings of many faiths. When you look at the early traditions of some of the great world religions, they almost always have an opinion on Jesus (this is true of their modern adherents too). We’ll put aside the theological cults of Christianity that have Jesus in there in some form or another. Ancient Jewish believers described Jesus in the following way: He was the son of Mary;[2] had many disciples;[3] was a miracle worker;[4] claimed to be the Messiah;[5] was crucified on the cross;[6] and his followers reported he rose from the dead.[7] Jesus is even mentioned in the Qur’an more times than Muhammad and Muhammad is supposed to be more important than Jesus according to Muslims. According to the Qur’an, Jesus: was born of a virgin;[8] was to be revered;[9] was a prophet;[10] was a wise teacher;[11] was a miracle worker;[12] ascended to Heaven;[13] and in addition to that, Muslims generally believe Jesus will return in judgment.

But what about the varying views of Jesus within Hinduism? The variations within Hinduism are a product of the complex and divergent set of views within Hinduism itself and so for this reason, there is no one set of beliefs that all Hindus adhere to when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ. Hindus may see Jesus in one or more ways: a holy man, a wise teacher and/or a “god”.

Like Hinduism, Buddhism provides no singular unified view of Jesus although a number of Buddhists will describe Jesus in one or more ways: an enlightened man, a wise teacher, and/or a holy man. There are even some Buddhists who will talk about Jesus as if he and Buddha would have been close spiritual brothers had they lived in the same time period. While others will openly claim that the Buddha reincarnated as Jesus. These portraits given by the different world religions are merely shadows of the very center of the Christian faith. Why not just start with Jesus in the search for truth?

 A fourth reason to consider exploring Christianity first is because it has the best worldview fit. Let’s take evil and suffering in the world as an example. While Christianity readily admits that there is evil and suffering in the world, most if not all eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism deny evil exists. Evil is just seen as an illusion in these worldviews. Western New Age adherents have a similar view on evil. Their worldview, provided by their religious beliefs, does not fit with what is actually true in the real world.

A fifth reason to consider Christianity before any other religion flows from the fourth reason. In the Christian worldview, you live a non-compartmentalized life. You’re not a Christian on Sunday and an atheist the rest of the week. It’s because the Christian worldview actually corresponds to reality that you can be a Christian every day and you don’t have to change your worldview when interacting with the real world. Buddhists and Hindus have this problem. While denying evil, Hindus and Buddhists have to live a compartmentalized life; denying evil religiously while interacting and even acknowledging it in everyday life.

Methodologically speaking, this is not a way to determine that Christianity is true but merely a few reasons why a reasonable and sincere truth seeker should consider looking into Christianity first.

End Notes

  1. Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 45.
  2. The Toledot Yeshu
  3. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a
  4. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a; t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b; The Toledot Yeshu
  5. The Toledot Yeshu
  6. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a; The Toledot Yeshu
  7. The Toledot Yeshu
  8. Qur’an 19:18-22
  9. Qur’an 4:171
  10. Qur’an 6:85; 3:49-51; 5:75
  11. Qur’an 57:27; 61:14
  12. Qur’an 2:87; 3:49; 3:46
  13. Qur’an 3:55; 4:159

The Fruit of Following God – Part 9: Submissive Obedience

The growing disciple of Christ has a new standard for his life. He wants to know what God says through His word and wants to do what he hears God say.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do,” (James 1:22-25).

This life of obedience, lived by the Spirit as well as out of gratitude for God’s grace, is a proof of love for Jesus,

“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them,” (John 14:21).

Also,

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete,” (John 15:9-11).

Learning submission to the will of God is a true sign that one is a child of God. The Apostle Paul “kicked against the goads” (resisting God’s work) and it took a Damascus Road crisis of life to bring him into not only full submission but also zealous enthusiasm to suffer whatever cost and demands were required to live for, as well as to proclaim, Christ.

Living under grace means that the disciple strives to please the Lord. He does not abuse grace in such a way as to live a life of license (freedom to sin). In my early Christian days, the student who invested in my growth confessed to me that the year before, when he became a Christian, he continued to sleep with his girlfriend. But then he clarified his statement – he had been a “pagan” (unrestrained unbeliever) all of his life, but didn’t know it was wrong to sleep with his girlfriend. Once he was told what that the Bible says sex outside of marriage is sin, he instantly repented and obeyed God’s Word. He responded wholeheartedly to the Word of God. That submissive attitude is an attribute of a true disciple!

The Fruit of Following God – Part 7: “Lives to Glorify God”

Ultimately, this attribute answers the questions, “Who (or what) is first in my life?” And, “why do I exist?” These questions address what is often called “The Lordship Commitment.” Does Christ hold first place in the life of the disciple? Will he or she submit to and obey His revealed will in all matters of life? Is his or her passion and motivation now upon glorifying God instead of living for oneself? The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers (who truly struggled with their passions), “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The growing disciple of Christ begins to discover area after area of his or her personal life that needs to be submitted to the will of Christ. He does not want to live for self but for God’s glory.

This disciple is sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in all matters of obedience to God’s law (his expressed will). Obedience spawned by love for God and out of gratitude for His grace and forgiveness becomes a heartfelt passion, even though struggles with sin remain a reality. Self is no longer the driving force in their lives. Even though some of us may have come to faith in Christ out a motive for self survival but slowly, over time we realize that we have been captured and saved by God to live for Him and His honor alone. Although sin still has its subversive grip in our lives, we want to give God our all and be an example to others regarding a life that is now completely given over to our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no disparity between making Christ Savior and making Him Lord. We want Him to be Lord, even at our conversion (Colossians 2:7). Although the disciple does not fully understand the commitment being made to Christ when he or she trusts Him for salvation (similar to marriage I might add), the disciple wants God to rule over his or her life. He has tried life his way and found it lacking. When it comes to focusing upon Christ and the Christian life, he is “all in!” The lordship of Christ begins at salvation but becomes more fully realized as the disciple walks through life with a new master.  And with each passing day, this follower of Jesus is able to say more and more “Not to us, but to your name be the glory!” (Psalm 115:1).

Is It Still Good News?

This post was written by Christian Crouch of SC.  He writes of himself:

“Christian, a native Tennessean, is the pastoral assistant at Grace Fellowship Church, an independent Reformed congregation in Irmo, South Carolina. He is the grateful husband of Chelsey and the proud father of Stephen and Cohen. Christian is a graduate of the University of the South and Reformed Theological Seminary. Among his other interests, he especially delights in seeing people understand, love, and obey the good news of Jesus Christ.”


Several years ago I played hooky from church so I could go to church. That is to say, I skipped my own congregation’s Sunday service and headed a few blocks over to another local church, where a visiting speaker was scheduled to preach. The speaker was also an author and had written several books that, as a brand-new Christian, I had devoured for their clear explanation of the Bible and warm, fatherly writing style. In my mind, he was a hybrid of John Calvin and Mike Brady. And believe me, if you knew somebody like that was preaching six blocks away, you would’ve played hooky, too.

What I discovered was something considerably less entertaining (but substantially more helpful) than that hybrid (a “Crady”? A “Bralvin”?). The author (who is not an ordained clergyman) began his sermon by reading a quote from a famous pastor (you’d know him) that went along these lines: Becoming a Christian is an act of God’s sheer grace, a totally undeserved gift;  however, your progress and growth as a Christian are completely up to you. The dramatic pause after he finished reading seemed to last forever. Then he simply asked, “Is that true?” How would you have answered?

After another awkward silence, he read the following verse from the Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
—Galatians 3:3

In a measured tone, the speaker carefully explained the message of the apostle, a man who had been personally sent by the Lord to preach the good news of Jesus (see the Book of Acts for the full story). Having proclaimed Jesus to people with little to no knowledge of the Bible, and having seen many come to a life-changing faith in Jesus, Paul was dumbstruck that these same people were now denying the basis of that good news: the simple power of trusting Jesus alone as the only means of rescue from sin and misery. By saying, in effect, that their maturity as disciples of Jesus depended entirely on their own hard work and dedication was, to the apostle Paul, a sign that the Galatian Christians had forgotten one of the most basic truths of the faith.

I wonder if you see yourself as guilty of the same mistake. I certainly am. And so are many of the Christians I know. Ask yourself: Does the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done feel important to you right now? Or was it something that really only applied to you before you became a Christian? To put it another way, is the gospel still good news, or is it just news?

Christians need to hear Paul’s message loud and clear: You still can’t save yourselves! You can’t try hard enough, succeed enough, or grow enough apart from God’s undeserved love. The gospel doesn’t just get us out of the principal’s office; in the words of one pastor, it brings us all the way home. Put another way (and in the words of yet another pastor), the gospel is not the ABC’s of the Christian life, but the A to Z of the Christian life. If you know Jesus, you still need daily reminders that you are not able to save yourself and must depend on God’s promised help for any progress in your efforts to be more like him. That is good news for people who, when faced with the hard realities of following Jesus in our broken world, are tempted toward the exhausting hamster wheel of self-righteousness. The power of the Holy Spirit is always necessary to change sinners, even those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. But the good news is this: He loves to change us and is even more willing than we are to see that change happen.

When You Give Yourself a ‘B’

This post comes from Pastor Bob Thompson (D.Min.) of Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, NC. Bob has been a minister in the UCC for two decades.


Last week I decided to watch myself on TV.  I wasn’t glad I did.  I don’t know that I’ve watched my own sermon on video since seminary.  It is, at the least, kind of strange.

We not only don’t record our worship sermons on video at Corinth; we don’t even record them on audio.  The reason I was preaching on TV was that I had been a guest at Exodus Missionary Outreach Church.  Their services are taped weekly for editing and broadcast on WHKY-TV.

Honestly, I thought it was better sermon when I was delivering it than I thought when I watched it.  I found lots of ways it should have been improved in content and delivery.  I’d give it a ‘B’ if I were grading it as a preaching professor.

As most of you know, Linda and I have also been working on a home improvement project recently.  As I look around the room, I give myself a ‘B’ for floor refinishing, carpentry, sheet rock repair, and painting.  Hopefully the casual guest in our home will not notice the flaws, but I will always see them.

The combination of those two areas has me thinking about other areas of my life – parenting, pastoring, and, most importantly, living out a personal relationship with Christ.  ‘B’ at best.  Maybe not even that most days.

This column is not designed to evoke praise or encouragement.  I’m not looking for, or needing, words of affirmation.  I’m not down about life or ministry.

Instead, I’m very aware of grace.  God used that sermon at Exodus in spite of me to connect two very different congregations.  The “new” living room looks pretty good overall, and has created the larger, more open space we intended to create.  My kids are turning out great in spite of my flaws. ( As of this Sunday, for example, we’ll be 3 for 3 graduating from college – on time!  On Mother’s Day, Jeni will receive her Bachelor of Music degree from Appalachian State University, graduating summa cum laude [with highest honors].)

God is not looking for perfection.  That quality belongs to him alone.  He’s looking for people who are willing to let him take us where we are, willing to give our best, and willing to admit our own flaws, sins, and shortcomings.

So take courage if you feel in one area (or all of them, like me lately) you’re doing ‘B’ work.  God loves you and is using you.  If you’re perfect, you don’t need him.  Trust me – you need him.