Christians are Dual Citizens

Religion and spirituality intersecting with politics? Does that sound like a nightmare to you? You are not alone. If you turn on the news, it won’t take long to feel defeated by lies, darkness, and strife. As students leave their homes and their universities they will have civic responsibilities to fulfill as adult citizens. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe that my faith affects every other sphere of life. I can personally say from experience that a relationship with the King of Kings cannot be confined to a box! The question now is how.  

From what I have observed, it is easy to fall into one of three extremes: First, there are those who believe Jesus is the true King who will return soon, so things are only going to get worse around here and we shouldn’t bother trying to fix it. Second, there are those that have faith and politics in separate boxes that do not interact. Finally, those who place their religious views on politics so much that the two become inseparable and politics becomes the basis of religion.

We must find some kind of balance, but like many other parts of the true Christian faith, finding a balance between the earthly and eternal depends more on one’s heart than his or her actions or voting patterns. Therefore, finding answers to these questions of faith and politics begins with God himself. Only through understanding his character will we be able to represent him in every area of life on earth. 

In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter writes to the Church,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

This verse of scripture has inspired the idea of The Dual Citizen. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are part of a different brand of people, a different brand of Americans, because we have been called out of the darkness and adopted into the family and kingdom of God. Set featured image

The world around us is hurting and stuck in the darkness that is the result of our sin condition.  The political world is complicated and scary– how are we supposed to know who to believe, how to vote, what to read, where to begin? The Dual Citizen podcast exists to give small, practical steps to becoming a young adult who can confidently sustain an educated conversation about something controversial or something that is happening in Washington. 

Follow along, and we’ll have some helpful conversations that can empower you to be an American citizen who can actually fulfill your adult responsibilities of knowing what’s going on in the world. In the coming months, we will hear from incredible people who live inspiring lives of community-changing conversation and action. 

Slaughterhouse-Five and the Problem of Free Will

I recently read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. At first glance, the novel is about war and funny-looking aliens from outer space. Yet, at its core, it is about deeply human issues—issues of philosophy and morality. Moreover, Slaughterhouse-Five is not only a prized contribution to literature, but also a work dedicated to significant questions of theology.  

Understanding Slaughterhouse-Five 

Slaughterhouse-Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s novel about his experience in the firebombing of Dresden, Germany. On February 13, 1945, Dresden underwent an Allied firebombing that killed roughly 25,000 civilians. Writing about such an atrocity would be no easy task. In the fight against post-traumatic stress, Vonnegut uses science fiction—episodes wherein Billy, the main character, encounters beings from outer space—to ease his mind and alleviate the pain of looking back on the tragedy of Dresden. 

Let me be frank: Slaughterhouse-Five is not for the faint of heart. The novel is incredibly cynical, depressing, and uncomfortably funny. Because of this, Slaughterhouse-Five is hardly discussed in Christian circles. Yet, Vonnegut’s blockbuster novel has a lot to offer for healthy theological conversation. 

It is equally important that the reader understand that Slaughterhouse-Five is, essentially, an anti-war novel. But, it is not just an anti-war novel. Boiling down the complexity to this one category robs the reader of appreciating Vonnegut’s wisdom, literary style, and his ability to use humor as a means of communicating life’s greatest questions. It is our job, as Christians, to discern these questions with virtue. 

Free Will and Determinism 

The reader relives Vonnegut’s experience through the fictional character of Billy Pilgrim. At a turning point in the novel, Billy is abducted by Tralfamadorians, aliens who see all of time simultaneously, who change his perception of reality. Instead of experiencing time linearly, Billy sees time, like the Tralfamadorians, in the fourth dimension—past, present, and future all at once. Events that occur at different times for humans are happening concurrently for Billy and the Tralfamadorians. 

Given the fact that Billy sees all of time at once, he is thought of being omniscient. Because Billy comprehends all the details of his life—including his abduction and death—he succumbs to apathy. He finds himself so blinded by his knowledge that his abduction seems meaningless. With this attitude in mind, Vonnegut writes: 

Billy looked at the clock on the gas stove. He had an hour to kill before the saucer came. He went into the living room… [and] turned on the television.

Vonnegut is portraying the dichotomy of determinism, or predestination, and free will. It is the author’s belief that, given God’s omniscience, free will is an illusion. If God is all-knowing, he either actively brings about everything that happens or allows such things to pass. Thus, humankind has no real autonomy. Billy, understanding this, decides not to avoid his abductors. He can’t avoid them. 

This dichotomy is especially evident in the episodes set in Dresden. Billy Pilgrim is no representation of the “battle-tough” soldier. He loses his weapon, helmet, and the majority of his clothing. With a heel missing from one of his shoes, Billy hobbles up and down helplessly. The Nazis even take pictures of the horrid condition of this hobbling American soldier to use as propaganda.  

Due to his omniscient condition, Billy realizes that putting any effort into the war would be in vain. The dichotomy of predestination and free will desensitizes Billy to death. Just as he is careless about his own life, so is he indifferent about the destruction of Dresden. In addition, he can find no real fault in this atrocity—determinism has robbed humanity of all moral responsibility. This uncomfortable concept is exhibited when Billy first gazes upon the city: 

… the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead. So it goes.

Vonnegut’s whimsical and jarring imagery intends to shock the reader. It is at this point that our ideologies—ideas of theology, philosophy, and moral obligation—collide with experience. Here, Vonnegut challenges the reader to reconcile ideological perception with reality. 

The Christian Perspective

Vonnegut’s personal objection to Christianity, along with the dilemma of the novel, is such: because God must be omniscient, “everything is predestined and free will is an illusion. Life is meaningless.” I am of the opinion that this objection is, oftentimes, not handled properly. 

Predestination, as it refers to the determinism of all things, is explicitly present in the biblical text (Ephesians 1:4-5; 11, Acts 4:27-28). Notwithstanding the proper mention of the word, God’s omniscience is undeniably present in both the New and Old Testament narratives (Proverbs 16:33, Romans 8:28). The Bible calls believers to “rejoice and be glad” and “choose life” (Matthew 5:12, Deuteronomy 30:19). These commands promote the ability of human action—or, the concept of free will. Similarly, Christ’s call for us to love him with the entirety of our hearts would be an illusionary task if the heart was manipulated against the will (Mark 12:30). There lies a tension between God’s ability to know and our ability to act. Not only are there direct references to these concepts, but Scripture also promotes these ideas in narratives. 

The significance of free will is underlined by the belief that autonomy renders meaning. No one is championing the idea of free will for its own sake. Adherents promote this doctrine because they believe it gives purpose to human life. Believing that God’s omniscience negates free will, Vonnegut portrays Billy as without any sense of meaning. There are different routes to take in solving this problem. 

According to the Biblical text, God’s sovereignty and man’s autonomy are certain realities. However, what is not certain is their relationship to one another. Independent of each other, God’s sovereignty and man’s agency are both true. In logically comparing the two, one may seem to negate the other. 

Believing that the absence of free will renders despondency, the first option is to say that God is paradoxically omniscient—“paradoxically” meaning that God’s sovereignty is, assumably, not meticulous and cannot negate free will. In other words, free will is certain and God’s sovereignty is a mystery. Yet, this limits God’s omniscience and challenges essential theology present in Scripture. 

The second option is to say that predestination and free will are mutually exclusive truths: they have nothing to do with each other. In this scenario, the believer would accept God’s determinist character and leave free will as a mystery. Because the question of meaning lacks a solution in this scenario, the believer would be constrained to find solace in biblical commands and not in personal autonomy. 

In logically comparing the two, we cannot comprehend the depths of this paradox. It is not that free will and determinism, independent of each other, confuse the believer. As previously mentioned, the mystery lies more in how these two realities relate to one another—and this confuses us. No amount of philosophizing or reasoning will give us the answer we desire. Scripture speaks into this mystery, but it may not be as definitive as we would want it to be. Answers may never come for these inquiries. Ultimately, we must shift our lack of understanding of these complexities from frustration to peace—peace only Christ can give. 

Defending the Faith 

This is the moral: We have to be careful about answering questions of skepticism. The dichotomy of predestination and free will has turned many away from Christianity. We, Christians, must engage the philosophical world with grace and humility, lest we turn a questioning soul away. 

The Proverbs says: 

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom.
-Proverbs 11:2

The combination of knowledge and pride is the Christian’s sinful crutch. Genuine knowledge—knowledge of things theological or philosophical—is accompanied by wisdom. And true wisdom, says Socrates, is “in knowing you know nothing.” 

Although God’s ways are incomprehensible and we may, in some abstract way, truly know nothing, we must find solace in the call to make an intelligible and humble defense for the hope that is in us.

How Worship Forms the People of God

Every Sunday, millions of people walk into churches across the world to hear a message, sing, and pray. Unfortunately, in the United States, we have created a culture around going to church in order that we might be put into a better mood, feel happier, and “experience” the presence of God in a new way and then post about it on our social media. There is now a surge of phrases emerging in conversations on the sidewalk outside of our churches, phrases like: “I didn’t feel it today,” or “I couldn’t sing that song again, we sang it last week.”

Like many things in our consumer-focused society, we have made worship about us, our preferences, and our feelings. Emily Zell recently wrote that “it becomes problematic when we come to worship for the sake of an emotional high” (emphasis added). If we come to church or set aside quiet time with our chief motivation being to get a “spiritual high,” we are doing a disservice to ourselves. Worship (in this article worship references both corporate worship and how we live our lives) forms the people of God by providing us with a proper theology which in turn reorients our motivations.

Worship and Our Feelings

We have a kind, loving heavenly Father who desires that we know and enjoy him. We have been given the unique opportunity to worship the Father in particular and personal ways. It is important to note that there is a place for our feelings and our emotions in our times of worship. 

For instance, recently we have had several articles come out about the season of Advent. The seasons of the church calendar aim to stir in our hearts different emotions and mental images to push us to see a specific aspect of Christ during that season. In advent, the Scripture plans we read or songs we sing are trying to get us to feel a sense of longing, of desire for Christ to return again. When our singing or reading is accompanied by feelings it is easier for us to continue in doing those disciplines everyday and it helps us to dive deeper into a personal relationship with the Lord. However important our feelings are to God, they are not the purpose of our worship.

The Value of Corporate Worship

A.W. Tozer says, “What we think about when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” We need corporate worship because in the church, we pray, sing songs, and listen to sermons that all build our theology (what we believe about God). Corporate worship gives us accountability with other believers in our community. By consistently attending the same church and placing ourselves under the doctrine of our churches, we are committing to reflect the beliefs of the church and more importantly, the teachings of the Bible. Thankfully, when we stop reflecting those things or when we miss church consistently, we have people who know us and are able to lovingly draw us back to the kindness of the Father. In this way, through good community and sound corporate worship, we are slowly formed to be compassionate, loving believers who walk humbly with one another and with God. 

We Worship with Our Lives

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
-Romans 12:1

In addition so worship in our church services, we worship the Father with how we, as believers, live our lives. Worship is formative and manifests in a myriad of ways. We worship the Lord in how we do our homework, how we fold our laundry, how we greet people on our college campuses, and even in how we run on the treadmill. Each of these things is worship because each of these things and every small detail of our lives glorifies the Lord in how it represents His character or brings to light our desperate need for a savior, Jesus Christ. 

There will be times when we need to pray or need to read our Bible for the first time in a while but we don’t seem to have a desire to do so. When we submit to what we know about God’s character, and when we pray even a one sentence prayer or simply open our Bible to a chapter we’ve read a dozen times, we are submitting to Him and developing obedience that helps to form us into a better light bearer of Christ’s Word. 

Our Response

In other segments of our “How ____________ forms the people of God” series we have explored the topics of community, liturgy, and prayer. Each of these practices helps form our worship which in turn forms us. Intentional community forms the people of God by providing us with accountability for how we live our lives. With gospel-centered community, we are able to make our day-to-day lives look more like Jesus’ and less like our broken ones. Through liturgy (consistent routines that shape our lives) we create patterns that help us to make time in our busy schedules to dive into the Word of God—even in times where it is hard or perhaps painful. Prayer allows us to enter into the throne room of God and petition Him about every burden, joy, fear, excitement, or trouble with a promise of peace in our souls.

Each of these practices helps form our daily lives, which forms our worship, shaping us as well. Let us now go, keeping in mind the prize set before us, to glorify the Father and one day be made perfect in His presence.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 3:12-14

Practicing Relational Evangelism

If you’ve been around the church much at all, you will not be surprised to hear that Christians have an obligation and responsibility to tell the world about what God has done through Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ last words before ascending to the Father, he told the apostles,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
-Matthew 28:18-20

As Christians, we share in the same call to evangelism that the Apostles received in the first century. We must realize that we have not been merely called to share the gospel with those who look like us or act like us, but with everyone despite their age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. This may all sound good theoretically, but how do we share the gospel with the strangers in our community?

Historically, the Church has chosen to focus on either sharing the gospel with their actions or their words.

Preaching the Gospel with Actions

You’ve undoubtedly heard the famous quotation, which is often misattributed to St. Francis of Assissi, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Adherents of this quote suppose that Christians should focus their time on sharing the gospel with their actions. Rather than concerning themselves with theological precision and a robust understanding of Scripture, they focus on serving and loving non-believers well. They find themselves investing in the lives of the less fortunate in food banks and elementary schools. They spend time with non-believers and hope that, through their distinct lifestyle alone, others will come to trust in Jesus Christ.

Preaching the Gospel with Words

On the other hand, there are others who place their attention solely on theological clarity and Scripture memorization. They stand up and boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel on city buses, in airports, and in shopping centers. They point to Christ who is the risen Son of God and call sinners to repent and follow Christ, but their lives don’t reflect this reality. They call sinners to leave their sins behind and cast their cares upon Christ, but they are not invested in the lives of any non-believers. They are seen in front of the grocery store calling sinners to repentance but are nowhere to be found when a struggling mother has no food to put on the table.

A Call to Relational Evangelism

Rather than focusing on one or the other, Christians should meet strangers with the intention of sharing the gospel with them as they develop a relationship with them. It is not that the previous methods are inherently wrong, for they both rightly place an emphasis on an aspect of God’s care, but they are incomplete, missing an important aspect of a multi-faceted gospel approach. As Christians, we have not been called to simply love others or speak the truth, but to practice relational evangelism. Let us care about what God cares about. With that being said, let’s examine a strategy to fulfill this call to relational evangelism.

Meet a Stranger

You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
-Leviticus 19:34

I believe the first step to sharing the gospel with the world around us is by meeting strangers. As Christians, we are outgoing people, not because God has wired each of us as extroverts, but because God is an outgoing God. God has reached out to us through Jesus Christ, pulled us out of the dominion of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of the Son whom he loves.

We cannot afford to be too content with the comfort of current friendships that we do not seek out new ones. Evangelism starts with reaching out and meeting strangers. All of us walk past dozens, if not hundreds, of strangers each day. What would it look like to step out of our comfort zone and meet a stranger each day? What kind of impact could the Church have if each Christian committed to this daily act? I challenge you to commit yourself to meet someone new each day.

Remember a Name

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.
-Proverbs 22:1a

While meeting someone new each day is incredibly important to our pursuit of evangelism, it can be rendered useless, and even harmful, to our ability to evangelize if we do not remember their names. In pretty much any conversation with a stranger, the first piece of information that you share with each other is your name. There is so much value in this that we often overlook. One of the primary ways we can add value to strangers is by listening to them when they tell us their name and committing to remember it. 

In the days leading up to my freshman orientation, my dad encouraged me to read Harry Lorayne’s The Memory Book. Before reading this book, I would not have considered myself “good at remembering names,” but the helpful tricks and, perhaps even more importantly, the newfound desire to intentionally remember names has served me well. How are we expected to have quality gospel conversations with strangers if we are not communicating the value that God says they hold? What kind of influence would we have with those around us if we committed to listening and remembering their names? I challenge you to listen closely to the names of the strangers that you meet and remember them. 

Make a Connection

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
-1 Corinthians 9:19-23

At this point, we have met a stranger and remembered their name. This is a good start to developing a gospel friendship, but in order to move past the surface level awkwardness, we need to make a connection. In this step, we act as a networker, making a connection with this new acquaintance for the purpose of it growing into a friendship, that we might learn to love another member of God’s creation. 

For example, a friend and I began strategically practicing relational evangelism with a student in our class and we learned that he liked sand volleyball. We reached out to him and invited him to ride with us to the intramural courts to play sand volleyball with our friends. By doing this, we invited him into our lives and were able to develop a friendship with him.

Become a Friend

So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
-1 Thessalonians 2:8

The previous statement is huge. We cannot forget that, as Christians, we are in the business of inviting people into our lives. This is hard, and sometimes even messy, but look at what Paul says here in 1 Thessalonians 2:8. He says that he, Silas, and Timothy were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves. Why? Because they affectionately desired them. The love they received from the Father motivated them to lovingly invest in the lives of the Thessalonians.

I believe the best way to share the gospel with others is to follow the example of Paul, Silas, and Timothy in this text. We open up our lives, let non-believers in, and share the gospel with them. Throughout this process, we have been examining different principles of hospitality, but friendship is the deepest way we can show hospitality with others, opening the door to gospel conversations.

Share the Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
-Romans 1:16

Throughout this entire process, we have been developing a friendship with the purpose of sharing the gospel. Far too often, well-meaning Christians stop at the end of step four and hope that non-believers see Christ in their lives and repent without audibly hearing the gospel. 

I want to be clear, as Christians, we hope non-believers see Christ in our lives, repent, and believe in the gospel, but we have been given the responsibility to present the gospel. It is through this presentation of the gospel that we share what God has done for sinners through Jesus Christ. We are not looking for moral conformity, but spiritual regeneration. This can only be accomplished through the work of God. Paul says that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

A dear friend of mine spent years investing in a “new kid” he met in middle school, remembered his name, made a connection with him, and during high school started getting coffee with him weekly. This former “new kid” was far from God and my friend knew that. Over time, my friend cultivated a deep friendship with this classmate, sharing the gospel with him and answering his questions. Halfway through our senior year, my friend and I had the opportunity to pray with this friend as he repented of his sins and followed Christ. This is what God has called us to.

Our Calling

Evangelism is not a comfortable calling. This is not an optional activity. This is a messy calling that every Christian has received from God. A calling that draws us out of our comfort and into the broken world. A calling that leads us to meet strangers, listen well, and remember names. A calling that leads us to make connections with people and make new friends. A calling that leads to changed lives and transformed hearts.

Five Reasons to Live by Faith Alone

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
-Galatians 2:20 

For Paul, to “live by faith” is not some moralistic platitude to be a better person. In other words, Galatians 2:20 does not say “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faithfulness.” Instead, Paul looks outward to the faithfulness of Christ “who loved me and gave himself for me.” Faith is extrospective in its very nature. To live by faith is to rest day-after-day in the finished work of Christ and to trust Him for the whole of our spiritual life.  Let us consider five reasons why living by faith is far greater than living by faithfulness.

(1) Apostolic Example

Before Paul gets to the Christian’s obedience to the Law and faithfulness in Romans 12-16, he first shows us in Romans 1:18-3:20 that nobody has obeyed the Law or been faithful enough to attain eternal life on their own. However, in Romans 3:21-11:36 Paul provides hope for the sinner. He speaks of the exhaustion of God’s wrath on the cross by Christ for sinners like us, the free justification of the ungodly through faith alone in Christ alone, the objective peace with God that sinners have through Christ, the sanctification of believers by Christ, the announcement for those who struggle with sin that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, the faithfulness of God to save His people through Christ, the unconditional election of sinners unto eternal life by the will of God, and the inclusion of Gentiles into the covenant community of believers in Christ.

Whether it’s our standing with God, assurance of salvation, sanctification, struggle with sin, the various trials of life, understanding the sovereignty of God, etc., Paul urges us to look to Christ. He doesn’t begin with the imperatives of Romans 12-16 right after Romans 3. Instead, he encourages understanding of what justification is. He knows that we first need to know the assurance of salvation. We need to be familiar with the mercy and grace of God because it is “by the mercies of God” that Paul appeals to the Romans to present their bodies as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). There is no true Christian obedience or spirituality without faith in the finished work of Christ and all the other mercies of God that are woven into it.

(2) The Nature of the Covenant of Grace

Romans 5:12-21 tells us that all of redemptive history can be distinguished into two people. You’re either in Adam or you’re in Christ. In Adam, there is the imputation of sin, the curse of death, the condemnation of God, and wrath. But in Christ, there is the imputation of righteousness, eternal life, justification, and peace with God. The only way we become united with Christ is through faith in Him, but even after we believe in Christ, we can’t move on from what He did for us. Again, apart from Christ, we have no hope. We must be in constant remembrance of what Jesus Christ, the Sinless Adam, did for us.

To be united with Adam is to be under the Covenant of Works. The condition to attain eternal life in this covenant is perfect, personal, perpetual obedience to God. Since Adam was unfaithful to that covenant, we receive the imputation of his sin and become condemned in God’s eyes because he was our representative. To be united with Christ is to be a part of the Covenant of Grace. The only condition to attain eternal life is faith in Christ (Galatians 3:11). Since Christ kept the Covenant of Works, we receive the imputation of His righteousness through faith, become justified in God’s eyes, and receive the gift of eternal life because He is our representative in His life, death, resurrection. R. Scott Clark writes, “While the Law says, ‘do,’ the Gospel says, ‘done!’ While the Covenant of Works says, ‘work,’ the Covenant of Grace says, ‘rest!’”

(3) We Are by Nature Legalists

Paul makes it clear in Romans 2:15 that everyone, regardless of their religious background, has the Law of God written on their hearts. We have an inherent sense of right and wrong. We even know that “it is the doers of the Law” that will be justified (Romans 2:13). The Law and its demands are natural to us, but our sin corrupts us into thinking we can actually perform what it commands. The Gospel, on the other hand, is unnatural to us. We can’t know what Christ did for sinners apart from special revelation. Even with special revelation, it takes an act of God’s grace for someone to come to Christ (John 6:44). Even after we become Christians, we still struggle with legalism. 17th century Puritan Walter Marshall writes, “By nature, you are completely addicted to a legal method of salvation. Even after you become a Christian, your heart is still addicted to salvation by works… You find it hard to believe that you should get any blessings before you work for it.”

That’s why we need our pastors especially, as well as the Christians around us, to be faithful in preaching the Gospel clearly to us. We need constantly to hear the good news of Christ’s righteous life, substitutionary death, world-changing resurrection, and glorious ascension. We need to constantly hear that “to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). If we live by faith in Christ, we can be sure that, no matter who we are or what we’ve done or are doing, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). It’s only through Christ that we can get over our addiction to the Law and allergy to the Gospel.

(4) Sanctification Is by Faith Alone

All Christians know that we are justified by faith alone. But it seems as though many do not think of the grace of God and faith in Christ when they think of sanctification. Marshall observed this too and wrote, “People think that even though they have been justified by a righteousness produced totally by Christ, they must be sanctified by a holiness produced totally by themselves.” What is Paul’s solution to lawless living in Romans 6:1-2? Does he jump to Romans 12-16? Does he tell us we just need to try really hard to be a good Christian? No. The solution to lawless living is not the Law but the Gospel. 

Paul tells us that we have died to sin and have been raised to new life. How? By being united with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5). We did not free ourselves from the slavery of sin; Christ did. We did not make ourselves slaves of righteousness; Christ did. The identity of “slave of righteousness” in Romans 6:18 is not something we have to strive to attain, but something we already have by faith in Christ. John Fonville writes, “In salvation, we don’t receive a half-Christ. We don’t receive a half-Christ that saves us from the guilt of sin, but leaves us to save ourselves from the power of sin. In salvation, we receive a whole Christ who saves us from both the guilt and power of sin.” Since Christ is the One who justifies and sanctifies us, Paul commands us in Romans 6:11, “So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Before we make any effort to obey the Law found in Romans 12-16, we must live by faith in Christ who has “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24) and raised us as a new creation to walk in newness of life.

(5) Christ Is Our Only Hope in Suffering

Even in suffering, we are to live by faith in Christ. Paul writes in Romans 8, 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
-Romans 8:18

In the context of the letter to the Romans, the church there was soon to be persecuted. In 64 A.D., Nero blamed Christians for the fire that burned down three quarters of the city of Rome and tortured and executed them. As American Christians, we don’t face persecution to the same degree as the Roman Christians did, but we still “meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Trouble with relationships, depression, familial strife, the injustices we see in American society, financial hardship, etc. all point to the “bondage” of creation. As Paul says, “… we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). 

But, as Christians, we live by faith in Christ because he promises a new heaven and new earth where Christ will “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

This life isn’t all we have. Therefore, we shouldn’t find our hope and identity in this world, because we are bound to be driven to despair. Our trust is in the sovereign God who “works all things together for good” (Romans 8:28). If we’re tempted to despair of life itself, we must look upward in faith to our gracious Father who gave us Christ. Paul asks, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). If God demonstrated His love in sending His Son and putting Him to death on our behalf, His love for us is never going to end. He will bring His people home. It’s those who live by faith who are “more than conquerors” because the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, conquered sin and death by His glorious resurrection for His people (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Therefore, Paul tells us, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

A Letter from Jeremy: Knowing the Love of Jesus

My friends,

Being the lowliest servant of God is better than having ten thousand universes to yourself without Him. You have never committed a small sin, they have all been wicked enough to damn you to Hell to be forever separated from Christ. While we all know this, something we rarely consider is that we have never received a small blessing. The fact that we have food to eat is amazing grace more than we could ever deserve. The fact that we have even one person unashamed to call us their friend, despite our lifelong, ungrateful treason against a holy God, is a gift of love that we can never repay. 

Yet even these blessings—food, clean clothing, friends—are but tiny embers next to the white, hot, blazing supernova of knowing the love of a pierced, agonizing, bleeding, weeping, dying Jesus. His majesty and splendor makes all things look less than worthless. Yet, this is the very King who loved even the most ungrateful hypocrite, and gave Himself upon an accursed tree. (Galatians 2:20) 

My friends, the garden of Eden and Paradise itself would be hellish and unbearable places without God and knowing the love of Jesus. Indeed, even ten trillion Heavens without Jesus would be gut-wrenchingly miserable, and like Hell itself, in comparison to an hour spent truly knowing the full love of Jesus Christ which surpasses knowledge. This is a love that exceeds the heights of Heaven, yet condescended to this globe, a love that condescended even to the cross and the depths of the terrible wrath of our Almighty God. This is a love that triumphed over death, Satan and his wicked demons, and the gates of Hell. This is a love that ascended in glory to lavish His Spirit upon His precious, adopted, ransomed children; a love which  interceded on His children’s behalf. This is a love that is coming back in Holy anger and furious wrath against wicked and reprobate enemies, but with tender mercy, compassion, joy, and gentleness to dwell with His precious children and wipe every tear from every eye. 

Oh, friends! Do you know this love I speak of? Do you know the predestinating love that determined all and carefully watches over each and every individual hair on your head? Do you know the love that takes care of you and guards you from the devils which would savagely murder you if He were to abandon you? Even when you were in your mother’s womb, you were adored and treasured by God. An everlasting love was placed on you before the foundation of the earth, and before you loved Him at all!

This love is what compels us. This is the love which drives away every fear and causes the Gospel to thunder forth to the darkest corners of this wicked world. This love can keep us humble when loved by billions, and joyful when hated by them. This love can keep us from despair after our greatest failures and keep us from pride after our greatest successes. This love can give us joy and hope in the darkest dungeon and gratitude and deep humility in the most splendid mansion. 

If we know the love of Jesus, we can endure both the smiles and frowns of this dying world and not be shaken. If we know the love of Jesus, we can boldly stand before any enemy, any King, any devil, or any putrid thing in Hell and declare the excellencies of the one who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light by His grace alone! If we know the love of Jesus, we can endure any devastation and sing for joy! 10 trillion afflictions would be Heavens if we could be in our Savior’s loving arms and know His love! Oh, with Jesus we can do all these things with sheer joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8). When you know the love of Jesus, you can rest your tired head on the pillow and sleep in perfect peace.

10 of Our Favorite Books from 2019

Personal study is an important aspect of the Christian life. Much could be said of the ways that reading forms our minds, but I will save that for another article. As the new year begins, I have asked our editorial team to provide a book recommendation for 2020. These are diverse books from various genres that our team has read in 2019 and served in a pivotal role to form our minds around the things of God. I hope that you find these recommendations and reviews helpful. All books will be linked to Amazon where you can purchase these books.

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God” continues to reign as one of my favorites. It has short, truth-filled chapters, making it easy to pick up and read in the midst of a busy life. Tozer explores what a life in pursuit of the living God looks like from many different angles, emphasizes the role of the Spirit, and encourages those in pursuit all at once.

 I have read through this book seven times this year and still go back to certain chapters when I know I need to. The ideas in the book have changed my perspective on the Lord and the that way I choose to live in pursuit of Him. I learn something new with each read. 10/10 highly recommend for those who are joining in the pursuit of something greater.

-Merrin Gilmer, Christian Living Editor

The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

It was difficult to pick my favorite book of 2019, but as I reflected over the books I read this year, The End of Our Exploring kept coming to mind. This book uniquely and beautifully explores what it means to question well. Starting with the questions asked in the Garden of Eden, examining what good question asking is as well as how to be explorers of knowledge in community, and pointing us to the hope of the “end of our exploring” where we “shall not cease from exploration…and know the place for the first time.”

This book was thought-provoking on every page. Anderson manages to create vivid images of abstract ideas, and made me think about my questions in ways I never have before. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever asked a question. It is beautifully written and wonderfully unique. I learned more about what it means to thoughtfully question and more of how God meets us in the midst of our uncertainty and exploration. It is so worth your time. I heartily recommend The End of Our Exploring.

-Emily Zell, Assistant Director

It Happens After Prayer by H.B. Charles

The premise of this book is to call the people of God to become serious about prayer. H.B. Charles examines the necessity of praying sincerely, obediently, constantly, with spiritual priorities, and putting in good work in our spiritual lives. I loved this book because it made me examine how I prayed and what I prayed about compared with how the Bible commands us to pray. 

H.B. Charles also reminded me to be thankful we have access to the throne room of God to make our petitions and have our anxieties removed. This book was used to change my prayer life in such a remarkable way.

-Maddie Nelson, The Church Editor

Anaphora: New Poems by Scott Cairns

Anaphora is a collection of poems by poet Scott Cairns. Cairns has produced eight other collections of poetry (Idiot Psalms being a treasured book for me), a spiritual memoir, and more. He is an Eastern Orthodox believer whose poetry is centered on the language of faith, Scripture, and God. This collection of poems is both accessible and intriguing. Avid poetry readers and newcomers alike can find delight in these lines. 

I really enjoyed this book because Scott Cairns’ poetry embodies a sacramental vision of the world. The aspects of life he puts into his poems inhabit a reality bigger than themselves. Not only this, but the words themselves come to participate in the truths to which they point.

– Joey Jekel, Senior Editor

Atonement by Ian McEwan

The best book I read in 2019 was Ian McEwan’s 2002 novel “Atonement.” The novel is set in England in the late 1930s and follows Briony Tallis as she ages from little girl to young woman and grapples with a destructive lie she told in her childhood which incriminated an innocent young man. McEwan’s talent is singular. At once static and elusive, every sentence in “Atonement” is so carefully crafted — McEwan is so careful to never waste a line, a character, a scene, or a single word. 

However, he’s not just careful with the specifics; McEwan’s plot is genius. He takes the reader through each characters’ experience of childhood, romance, family, and war; “Atonement” is not an “epic” length-wise, but it is grandiose and ambitious in the amount of human experience it paints. I believe the novel presents many important themes for Christians to consider, especially concerning the place art holds in our modern world. “Atonement” is a marvelous meditation on the nature of storytelling, worldview, love, and truth — themes every Christian should grapple with.

-Isaias Uggetti, Worldview Editor

Sensing Jesus by Zach Eswine

This book is eye opening and so challenging. I am quite limited in wisdom and even lesser in experience, so it is necessary for me to hear about ministry from a man seasoned in ministry like Eswine. I think even the most mature and experienced among us should pick this book up. 

It effectively takes a look down the ministry road and points to the various obstacles a person will encounter or be the cause of in a life of discipleship to Jesus, and teaches us how to lean on Jesus in the midst all the human helplessness and temptations toward chasing acclaim. This took me a long time (which I am glad for). It confronted me and encouraged me in a number of unforeseen ways. It is well worth prayerfully chewing on for a long time.

-Joseph Roseman, Worldview Editor

The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins Debate by Jason Lisle

Not only does Dr. Lisle’s book defend the biblical account of creation, it serves as a clear introduction to presuppositional apologetics. After reading this, the reader should expect to have a solid foundation for defending the faith. His book does not evaluate many religions, but through general examples, the book prepares the reader to perform internal critiques of various non-Christian religions. 

Anyone wishing to defend the Christian faith and who wishes to better engage unbelievers should give this book a thorough read. The Scriptures defend themselves against all ideologies that reject the triune God, and relying on God’s word, Dr. Lisle proves it.

-Nnanna Okafor, Theology Editor

Radical by David Platt

Is Jesus enough? Is the gospel worth the price? As Christians, these are questions we all ask ourselves. We want the security of our homes, money, and convenient lifestyles, but at the end of the day when we lay our head on the pillow, we often ask, “Did I do enough?” 

David Platt’s Radical challenges the reader to ponder and grasp what Jesus means when he says to take up your cross. It requires daily surrender of desires and motives to a God whose call on our life is greater than we can fathom. It will be difficult, uncomfortable, and harder than we can imagine, but we find true meaning in life when we lose our life for the sake of the gospel. Souls across the globe are at stake. 

Jesus is calling us to a life radically different than the world. Read Radical to see what picking up your cross looks like; it will change your life. Will you answer the call?

-Anna Kate Brown, Theology Editor

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Slaughterhouse-Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s novel about his experience in the firebombing of Dresden. At first glance, the novel is about war and funny-looking aliens from outer space. But, at its core, it is about deeply human issues. Vonnegut uses science fiction—episodes wherein Billy, the main character, encounters beings from outer space—to create a unique narrative and discuss the relationship between war and theology. 

Throughout the novel, Vonnegut challenges the Christian understanding of free will and predestination—a dichotomy that I struggle with greatly. By dragging the reader through his encounter with war, our ideologies—ideas of theology, philosophy, and moral obligation—collide with experience. Vonnegut makes the reader reconcile ideological perception with reality. Vonnegut forces us to ensure that our convictions are truly our own.

-Preston Blakeley, The Church Editor

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

If you know me well, you know that I struggle to cultivate rhythms of rest in my life. This book is clear, concise, and compelling. Comer, a pastor in Portland, Oregon, discusses the culture of hurry in America and presents a “rule of life” as a solution. Comer defines a “rule of life” as a schedule or set of practices and relational rhythms that help us create space in our busy world for us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what he did. Rather than presenting a “silver bullet” that will completely solve all hurry and stress in your life, Comer gives four practices to implement into your “rule of life”: solitude, sabbath, simplicity, and slowing.

Over the past month or so, I have begun to implement these practices in my life and I have experienced so much growth as a result of it. For several years, I naively viewed rest as the enemy of productivity, yet implementing the practices presented by Comer have led me to love the Lord more and serve him in a more effective and healthy manner. I would highly recommend The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry for anyone who is overwhelmed by busyness, interested in slowing down their life, and/or wants to learn to enjoy God more.

-Cole Shiflet, Director

How Children’s Bibles Form the People of God

We never graduate from the gospel, but I think sometimes we try to do so. We pursue theological knowledge and sift through Scripture that defends our latest point or that speaks to our current life situation. One pastor says, 

If you were in love and could only speak to your loved one in emails, you would never read those emails and say, “Wow. I’m right.” You would read those emails and feel so loved and become more enthralled with your love every time you read them.

Unfortunately, this experience of deep love through Bible reading is not as common of an experience as is should be. It is so easy to start to treat the Bible as a textbook to glean information from or a rule book to tell us what to do, but it is so much more than that. Our hearts need more than random verses and obscure theological distinctions. 

Our Hearts Need the Biblical Narrative 

When Jesus meets Cleopas on the Road to Emmaus, he finds him sad and disappointed. The Savior he thought would set everything right was dead (or so he thought). Haven’t we all felt this at some point? We felt disappointed by God and felt like he didn’t come through for us. Because we all understand what Cleopas has gone through, we need to see how Jesus met him in that situation. Jesus went all the way back to the story of Moses and explained how God always keeps his promises and how He, Jesus, was the fulfillment of all of it. In our times of deep disappointment and confusion, we must do the same. We need to go back to the biblical narrative and remember God’s overwhelming faithfulness and radical love for us, His children. Sally Lloyd-Jones, in the Jesus Storybook Bible, writes, 

The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure…There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture. 

We need to be consistently reminded of the big story of the Bible, because it reminds us that God is always working in way more significant ways than it seems. He always has a bigger plan in mind, and it is always for our good. When we zoom out to see this story as a whole, we can trace his hand throughout history. We can’t always trace His hand in our lives, but, as Charles Spurgeon says, “When you cannot trace his hand, you can always trust his heart.” We can know God’s heart when we see how he has been working since day one to bring his people into his family. 

One way to meditate on the biblical narrative as a whole is through children’s bibles. Children’s bibles, in many less words than the Bible itself, take our hands and guide us through the story of the Bible, and in most cases, explicitly show us how “every story whispers his name.” We need to be reminded of this because we need to be reminded of God’s sovereignty over all things. 

Children’s Bibles are for Everyone

It is quite clear how children’s bibles are beneficial for children. They introduce children at a young age to the stories of Scripture. Yet, they are also deeply beneficial for adults. We need to be reminded of the deep and important truths that we try to deem “introductory.” They are useful to adults both new to faith and who have known Christ for years and years. Children’s bibles can be a sweet and wonderful tool to introduce new believers, or people unsure of what the Bible story even is, to the gospel. However, if we believe that we never graduate from the gospel (or from the biblical narrative) then we will believe that we need to go back to basics consistently, no matter our age or spiritual maturity. Therefore, children’s bibles can be beneficial for mature Christians as well.

We Need to Go Back to Basics

We need things spoken to us simply. An English professor of mine said, “Writers like long sentences. Readers like short sentences.” And this is so true. We need someone to explain important truths to us in simple ways. We think we need to like only upper level, difficult biblical truths, and yes, there is a place for that, but there is also a place to go back to a childlike wonder. When Paul distinguishes between Christians who need milk and Christians who need meat, we must remember that we still should eat our meat with a glass of milk near to help us digest it and to remind us that we were once beginners in our understanding too. And that even after all of the meat we could ever eat, we will always need milk as well. We never graduate from our need for the basic truths of the Gospel. As Marty Machowski says in The Gospel Story Bible

You see, the gospel is not something we hear once, believe, and never need to hear again. We need to hear the good news about Jesus over and over. Paul never tired of sharing the gospel and telling people about Jesus and how he died for our sins so that we should be forgiven.

We also should never tire of hearing this beautiful story, and children’s bibles offer that to us. We need to be reminded of our childlike need for God to meet us in our daily lives. We need to be reminded of our need for a rescuer, and that God loves us, as Sally Lloyd-Jones says, with a “Never stopping, never-giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”

We need need. The Jesus Storybook Bible displays this beautifully in the story of Naaman, who thought that he did not need cleansing in the Jordan River, even though he had leprosy: “All Naaman needed was nothing. And that was the one thing that Naaman didn’t have.”

We need to be keenly aware of our needs like children are. We must learn again and again how to sit at Jesus’s feet and hear the beautiful story that he has been telling all along. The need to be reminded of the truth of the gospel is never something we can or will outgrow. Reading children’s bibles can be a reminder that we will never grow out of our childlike need for our Father. Jesus says just this to his disciples in the gospel of Matthew:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
-Matthew 18:1-4

Do we have the humility to become like children and marvel at Jesus and his most beautiful story? It is a humility and wonder to which we are called. It’s a humility that comes from acknowledging our childlike need for Christ. 

We need the biblical narrative. We need the gospel. And we need it told to us plainly and often. Children’s bibles can offer that to us in a unique and precious way. Let us never feel like we have grown too old or too advanced not to marvel at this Big Story, where every individual story whispers the name of Jesus.