Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gender, Tradition, and Young People

Check out this brief post by Rick Phillips. My own experience confirms his observations.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

God's sovereign goodness in the death of His beloved

Please take time to read this post from Tim Challies. It is a letter written by Dennis Rainey concerning the death of his baby granddaughter. It is a model of the mysterious wedding of grief mixed with joy which is only possible in Christ. It is a moving meditation on the sovereign goodness of God even in the midst of our deepest losses.

What George Carlin's death should make us think about

George Carlin was a profane man. That is not unusual. I am sure that if all of our thoughts and careless words were made known there would be no end to our shame. However, it is no secret that George Carlin was an atheist who openly mocked God, especially the God revealed in the Bible. What this means is that, unless he repented and turned to Christ before he died, George Carlin has entered into an eternity of darkness and banishment from God's mercy. It is an eternity where God's unmitigated and justified wrath is poured out upon the unrepentant. It is called Hell; a subject that most evangelicals would prefer to avoid. However, if Hell is not a real place then Jesus is a liar. If Hell is not the eternal destiny for all those who die in their sins then Jesus is a liar.

Some of you may have already read about the Pew Research report released today. It was disturbing to read that 61% of Southern Baptists surveyed agreed with the statement, "Many religions can lead to eternal life." Too many of us who name the name of Jesus simply do not like what He taught about the eternal destiny of those who do not believe upon Him. We prefer a sentimental God who is nice rather than holy; a God who really doesn't mean what He says. We have cheapened God's grace because we have denied His wrath.

Many evangelicals deny the reality of Hell for anyone except perhaps Hitler and Stalin in an effort to protect God from seeming cruel or unfair. However, when we say that all religions ultimately lead to eternal life, what we are truly saying is that God is a liar. We should not be slow to affirm that which God, throughout His Word, so clearly affirms. We should not be afraid to warn our fellow sinners about that which Jesus warned His first hearers.

It is not cruel or arrogant to say that unless George Carlin repented and believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ he is in hell today. It is not helpful, nor is it honest to say we simply don't know about Carlin's destiny. Why must we obscure what God has made plain? The book has already been written on George Carlin. "It is appointed unto man once to die and then face the judgment." But for our neighbors and friends who, by God's grace are still with us, let us take a lesson from Carlin's death. God has made it clear that our eternal destiny is not about our sincerity in our chosen belief system. It is about the doing, dying, and rising of Christ. All those who believe upon Him will be saved. "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:18).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mark Dever on the Gospel and Cooperation

Mark Dever on worship and preaching

The Reformation That Must Continue

As a follow-up to my last post, check out this excellent article by Nathin Finn on the conservative resurgence in the SBC. Dr. Finn is a church historian at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I think you will find his words helpful.

The CBF slides down an innevitable path

For those of you unschooled in Southern Baptist denominational life, the CBF (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) is an offshoot of the SBC made up primarily of moderates and liberals who who disdain the conservative resurgence that took place in the SBC in early 1980's. To be sure, there are some within the CBF who are not liberal theologically but find themselves associated with the group out of frustration with the SBC. However, for many others, The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is an opportunity to finally be free of the doctrinal and social underpinnings of conservative evangelicalism.

The CBF will ultimately collapse. As the liberals within their ranks gain more and more control so too will grow their willingness to advocate heresy. They already associate themselves with such left-wing organizations as The Baptist Peace Fellowship. They are unwilling to take a stand on issues such as abortion and homosexuality knowing that many within the CBF hold predictably liberal positions on those issues. The CBF is also unwilling to draft a statement explicitly affirming the diety of Christ, the subsitutionary atonement, and many other doctrines critical if one is to call oneself a Christian.

Check out this post on Denny Burk's blog that reports on John Killenger's recent remarks at a CBF workshop. The question must be asked: Can a people be called Christian when they deny the most fundamental truths about Jesus Christ?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Good Books

Check out this recommended reading list from Ligonier Ministries.

We had a great time in Breckenridge. Thanks to our friends who loaned us their beautiful home for the week!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bungee Boys

Christian Kitsch

This story illustrates well what happens when Christians build a subculture rather than living as resident aliens within the culture.

Gospel-Centered Theology

Check out this excellent article by David Fairchild at Kaleo Church. Fairchild clearly outlines how the Gospel not only shapes biblical theology but also creates the rationale behind mission.

Focus on Christ, not Spirituality

"From the New Testament's point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirituality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about itself and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety be nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ."

- Sinclair Ferguson

Funniest thing I've seen all week

Thanks to Denny Burk for posting this.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Two Words in the Bible

It has been said that the two words in the Bible are "law" and "gospel." The point is that everything in Scripture can ultimately be placed either in the category of law or gospel. Law is anything that God requires. The law is God's commandments; His righteous demands. The gospel, on the other hand is any promise in Scripture of God's favor based entirely on God's umerited favor. Gospel is forgiveness granted to sinners by God apart from anything the sinner does. It is free grace.

If we are to properly understand the Bible, the character of God, and the nature of salvation then we must maintain a proper distinction between law and gospel. In the church, however, it is all too common for law and gospel to be mixed. Rather than being presented in all its perfection and moral terror, the law is preached as helpful principles for successful living. The Gospel, rather than being radical, undeserved grace is infused with works so that it becomes something we do. In this way, preachers have effectively inoculated men and women from an appropriate terror of the law and an equally appropriate gladness in the gospel.

I have been devouring a wonderful book by John Pless called Handling the Word of Truth. Pless writes:
"To bring the Law into the domain of the Gospel is to undermine the good news of Jesus Christ, transforming a pure gift into a human achievement. Such mingling of Law with Gospel dilutes the precious promises of God with demands for works. In short, the Gospel is polluted and rendered impotent. To use another biblical metaphor, a pinch of yeast of the Law hidden away in the dough of the Gospel ruins the whole lump. We are not left with the bread of life but with stale rations that cannot sustain those who journey through the valley of death's shadow.

"On the other hand, to mix the Gospel into the Law is to create the illusion that the Law offers hope. Inserted into the Law, the Gospel weakens but does not remove the threat of the Law. Such a blending of Law and Gospel invites sinners to place their confidence in their own efforts - 'motivated by the Gospel,' as it is said. The Law is lifted up as a set of principles or rules that may be obeyed and fulfilled with the aid of God's grace. This synthesis of Law and Gospel corrupts both, driving broken sinners either to a false security or to unholy despair...

"The Law has absolutely no power to make human beings righteous. It has nothing to say about God's grace in Jesus Christ. It cannot create faith. The faith that the Law demands is not a work that we can accomplish. Faith is purely passive, completely receptive of the gift of forgiveness bestowed by the Gospel alone...

"The Law never finds righteousness; it only confirms unrighteousness. The Gospel never finds righteousness; it only gives and bestows righteousness. The righteousness imparted by the Gospel is not one of works but of God's grace in the blood of Jesus Christ. It is a righteousness that is not achieved but received by faith alone....It is only when a person sees himself to be a genuine sinner with no hope under the Law that the Gospel will be heard as joyous news of pardon."

Male Pattern Baldness

Why does it always look worse in pictures?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

WDJD? (what did Jesus do?)

"Be sure, moreover, that you do not make Christ into a Moses, as if Christ did nothing more than teach and provide examples as the other saints do, as if the gospel were simply a textbook of teachings or laws. Therefore you should grasp Christ, his words, works, and sufferings, in a twofold manner. First, as an example that is presented to you, which you should follow and imitate. As St. Peter says in 1 Peter 4, 'Christ suffered for us, thereby leaving us as example.' Thus when you see how he prays, fasts, helps people, and shows them love, so also you should do, both for yourself and your neighbor. However this is the smallest part of the gospel, on the basis of which it cannot yet even be called gospel. For on this level Christ is of no more help to you than some other saint. His life remains His own and does not as yet contribute anything to you. In short this mode (of understanding Christ as simply an example) does not make Christians but only hypocrites. You must grasp Christ at a much higher level. Even though this higher level has for a long time been the very best, the preaching of it has become rare. The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own. This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you."

- Martin Luther

Eric Redmond on the reformation we need

Check out this great message by Eric Redmond at the annual Founder's Breakfast at the SBC. Importat stuff. Baptist Press posted this article on pastor Redmond's message.

Sinclair Ferguson on James

Thanks to Justin Taylor for posting a link to these great sermons. Sinclair Ferguson is one of my favorite preachers and writers. Be blessed and listen to this pastor/theologian preach these wonderful sermons.

Monday, June 16, 2008

"Lost" on Vacation

We arrived in Breckenridge today for a week of vacation. I have been looking forward to this week for a while. The weather is beautiful.

Right now Karen and I are joining the rest of the civilized world by watching LOST. We have never seen a single episode. Anyway, we are in the middle of episode two. O man! They just shot a polar bear! But where did the guy get a gun? Jack is yanking a piece of shrapnel out of some poor soul. Wait! Kate was the one being transported by the U.S. Marshall. Hold the phone! The guy with the shrapnel in his gut is the U.S. Marshall! Okay, now I'm hooked.

More later.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Bob Dylan - Saved (Live)

Flooding and the Mercy of God

Check out this post from Said At Southern.

Tenacious in Doctrine, Lenient with People

"Doctrine is heaven, life is earth. In life there is sin, error, uncleanness, and misery, mixed, as the saying goes, 'with vinegar.' Here love should condone, tolerate, be deceived, trust, hope, and endure all things (1 Cor. 13:7); here the forgiveness of sins should have complete sway, provided that sin and error are not defended. But just as there is no error in doctrine, so there is no need for any forgiveness of sins. Therefore there is no comparison at all between doctrine and life. 'One dot' of doctrine is worth more than 'heaven and earth' (Matt. 5:18); therefore we do not permit the slightest offense against it. But we can be lenient toward errors of life. For we, too, err daily in our life and conduct; so do all the saints, as they earnestly confess in the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. But by the grace of God our doctrine is pure; we have all the articles of faith solidly established in Sacred Scripture. The devil would dearly love to corrupt and overthrow these; that is why he attacks us so cleaverly with this specious argument about not offending against love and the harmony among the churches."

- Martin Luther

Friday, June 13, 2008

Christianity Astray

Christianity Today, founded by Billy Graham and Carl Henry (one of the 20th century's greatest theologians) is hardly even a reflection of its former self. One C.T.'s latest embarassments is a positive review it offered to the film "Sex And The City." Check out these three important responses to C.T.'s absurdity here, here, and here.

Southern Baptists and Church Membership

I am thankful that a resolution on church membership was adopted at the SBC's annual meeting this week. Perhaps it could signal a change in our sloppy accounting. What will be needed however is for pastors like myself to cease worshipping at the feet of our idol: the crowd. Check out these helpful posts (here and here) by Tom Ascol who has been courageously pushing for such a resolution (along with corporate repentance) for at least three years.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Leaping for joy over the Gospel

"The Gospel does not require anything good that man must furnish: not a good heart, not a good disposition, no improvement of his condition, no godliness, no love either of God or men. It issues no orders, but changes man. It plants love into his heart and makes him capable of all good works. It demands nothing, but it gives all. Should not this fact make us leap for joy?"

- C.F.W. Walther

Amazing Things

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Some Thoughts on the SBC annual meeting

Ben Wright has posted his impressions of the SBC's annual meeting. I think he makes some important observations. I hope someone is listening.

Can God Be Trusted? (1)

Following the horrific Asian tsunami that occurred on December 26, 2004, The Herald of Glasgow, Scotland printed a commentary that read in part:

“God, if there is a God, should be ashamed of himself. The sheer enormity of the Asian tsunami disaster, the death, destruction, and havoc it has wreaked, the scale of misery it has caused, must surely test the faith of even the firmest believer…I hope I am right that there is no God. For if there were, then he’d have to shoulder the blame. In my book, he would be as guilty as sin and I’d want nothing to do with him.”

As harsh as that commentary sounds, it echoes the sentiments of many who truly believe in God. Some months following the tsunami a poll was taken on that asked the question: “Does God have a role in natural disasters like the tsunami?” Of those polled, almost half agreed with the statement: “Although I believe in God, the supernatural had nothing to do with this tragedy.” There is a prevailing belief in the church today that credits God with pleasant circumstances but carefully shields Him from any responsibility for those things that cause pain or loss. I have had conversations with Christians who hold the novel idea that God has given nature “free will” to operate however it wills. It only requires a moment’s reflection to understand that theory to be pagan (literally) rather than Christian. However, it is a theory that has found a home in the contemporary church where sentimentality rather than God’s Word is more apt to shape our theology. It is a philosophy that easily grows in the soil of “My God would never do that!”

The question that interests me is whether or not God can be trusted to actually run what He has created. We throw around the word “sovereign” but do we understand what it actually means? A professing Christian once told me that God is sovereign in the way the Queen of England is sovereign – He is regal but He is not actually in control. I suppose a God like that can be loved but can He be trusted? Why pray to a God who looks good in a crown but can’t actually change anything? How can we trust God to work ALL things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28) if He surrenders His will to powers outside Himself? Are God’s purposes truly at the mercy of renegade storms, disease, and man’s free will?

If God is not truly responsible for the weather, the number of our days, the election of presidents, the results of diagnoses, and the falling of sparrows then our need to trust Him diminishes radically. However, if God is ultimately responsible for what happens within His creation then our need to trust Him is incalculable. Jerry Bridges writes, “The providence of God is not a now-and-then operation, as though God were watching from a distance, constantly surprised by accidents, darting in once in a while to fix things after the fact, regularly frustrated by His unruly and out-of-control creation. Confidence in God’s sovereignty in all that influences us is crucial to our trusting Him…His love may be infinite, but if His power is limited and His purpose can be thwarted, we cannot trust Him.”

To say that God is sovereign is simply to say that He is God. His “God-ness” is wrapped up in His sovereignty. Therefore, to diminish God’s sovereignty is to diminish His deity.

“In his heart a man plans his course,
but the Lord determines his steps.”
- Proverbs 16:9

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart,
but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
- Proverbs 19:21

“Who can speak and have it happen
if the Lord has not decreed it?”
- Lamentations 3:37

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
- Psalm 139:16

“[He] is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes.”
- Daniel 4:17

“He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: ‘What have you done?’”
- Daniel 4:35

Southern Baptists on the Decline

Check out this USA Today article on the anxiety among SBC leaders regarding declining numbers.

Can we know God's will?

Check out these great resources from Monergism on the subject of guidance and God's will. Very helpful!

Is belief in final judgment dangerous?

Al Mohler posts these interesting comments in response to a recent interview with British novelist Ian McEwan. Mohler makes a compelling argument for the moral necessity of belief in a final judgment.

Numa Numa SBC

Monday, June 9, 2008

Judge Not The Lord By Feeble Sense

I was thinking this afternoon about the profound words that we sang at Metro East yesterday:

Oh fearful saints new courage take,
The clouds that you no dread
Are big with mercy and will break
With blessing on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
- William Cowper

How often we judge the Lord by our own feeble sense. We determine that God cannot possibly be responsible for anything unpleasant and so we diminish His sovereignty and make Him a slave to free will, the forces of nature, or other powers outside Himself. By this we assume we have gotten God "off the hook." But God's own Word nver once belittles His power in such a way as to cast Him as impotent in the face of suffering and pain. Indeed, God makes it plain that both sweet and bitter providences come from his wise hand.

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best -
Lovingly, it's part of pain and pleasure
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
- Wilhelmina Sandell-Berg

Friday, June 6, 2008


The high stakes of knowing our origins

It seems that once children are able to form sentences, among their first intelligible utterances are questions. And to young ones beginning to discover the world around them, the questions abound! They begin with questions concerning identity. Observing a bulldozer for the fist time, a curious three year old will ask, “What is that?” The next category of questions is that which relates to function: “What is the bulldozer for?” Finally, as a person grows and matures their questions become increasingly metaphysical. Children eventually come to understand that there is something fundamentally different between them and a bulldozer or an oak tree or a red bird. What parent does not know the challenge, indeed the urgency of answering a plaintive, “Where did I come from?”
But the subject of origins is far from an idle pursuit of the young. For all of modern man’s interest in the future, the question of origins still fascinates. People want to know where they came from because it is a self-evident truth that our origin impacts directly our sense of meaning and value even providing a construct for morality. Henri Blocher writes:
“Frequently, indeed, the beginning unlocks the principle, the constitution reveals the nature. The human race quite rightly feels that it cannot find its bearings for life today without having light shed on its origins…Over a long period the biblical book of Genesis, and notably its opening chapters, provided successive generations with the undisputed reply.”
So much depends upon how the question of human origins is answered. How much evil has been done through the ages by those who conclude that human life, or at least the lives of particular humans, is not intrinsically valuable? Likewise, how much good has been done by those who know that not only their lives but the lives of all others from a surgeon to a rice farmer in Cambodia are of equal value?
The point of the opening chapters of Genesis is not to figure out exactly what happened to the dinosaurs or how thick the dust on the surface of the moon ought to be. These are not the issues that God is interested in addressing in His book. There are greater things at stake in our understanding of origins. For the sake of this discussion I want to point to two: worldview and doxology – how we think and live and how we worship.

[1] Blocher, Henri, In The Beginning (Downer’s Grove, IL:IVP, 1984) p. 15.

Writing on Genesis

I have loved preaching through Genesis. We still have a long way to go before we finish. Along the way I am taking my sermon manuscripts and study notes and writing expanded meditations. God willing, once I am finished it will be a helpful, readable, and devotional commentary on Genesis. Every once in a while I will post some random portions of what I have written thus far...

A Creation like no other
Genesis declares a definite cosmology. Cosmology is a word that explains how people understand the universe. For the pagan nations during the days of Moses the created order came about in chaos. The universe was the result of means as varied as warfare among the gods to sexual intercourse between the gods. In these ways the gods of the nations were much like the nations themselves. They were always busy feeding either their appetite for violence or sex. But Genesis offers a radical alternative. In this way Genesis operates as a polemic against the pagan creation myths. The writer is saying quite boldly to God’s people who had almost certainly heard the Babylonian or Canaanite creation stories, “What you have heard from the nations is wrong.”
David Wilkinson calls the creation account of Genesis a “theological attack” against the pagan creation cosmologies.
[1] In contrast to the myths of the nations, the Genesis account is very brief and spare of detail. There is a wonderful economy of words and images in the biblical account. Throughout, the reader’s attention is kept riveted on God. Dumbrell states, “The effortless way in which the world is brought into being by divine command goes beyond what may be parallels in the Babylonian or Egyptian creation accounts. Indeed, it is possible that such accounts were in the author’s mind and that Genesis 1 serves as a polemic against them.” [2]

[1] Wilkinson, David, The Message of Creation (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2002) p. 21.
[2] Dumbrell, Willliam, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002). p. 13.

The Bible Tells One Story

“The Bible tells one story. It is a long and complicated story about events that took place over several thousand years, but even so it is one story. Like most stories the most exciting and important parts come toward the end. In this case, the most important part comes when Jesus is born, lives, dies on the cross, rises again, and ascends to heaven. But to know why Jesus comes and what He is doing when He dies and rises again, we need to know the story that goes before…A beginning is nothing without an ending, but an ending without a beginning isn’t worth much either. To tell the story of Jesus, we need to start with Genesis…”

Peter Leithart from A House For My Name

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Tim Keller on Gospel-Centered Ministry

We have said a lot about how the Gospel must not only be our central message but also the controlling hermeneutic of our lives. In this article Tim Keller demonstrates how the Gospel must be central to our ministry.

Gianna Jessen Saline Abortion Survivor

"The Audacity of Death"

Check out this powerful article from the Wall Street Journal.

Summer Reading for Dudes

Al Mohler posts this pretty impressive list of books he recommends for guys.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How to Evangelize

As I prepare for the third part in my current series of messages I am struck by the fact that nowhere in Scripture does God seem to give His people a seminar in how to do evangelism. Certainly the Bible makes it clear that regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit (John 3) and that unbelievers are converted through means of the Word of God (Romans 10:14-17). However, we are never given a methodology per se. Instead God gives us the book of Acts. Repeatedly we see individuals and churches engaged in the mission of advancing the Gospel. The examples are as varied as Peter preaching at Pentecost, Philip explaining the Scriptures to the Ethiopian, the church in Jerusalem being added to daily by the Lord, and the Christians at Thessalonica reasoning and giving proof of the gospel.

I could continue to list examples from the book of Acts. The point I am trying to make, however, is that no matter your personality or spiritual gifting, you have something to offer to the mission of God. There are people (neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, and old friends) to which God has given you access and influence. How can the influence with which you have been entrusted become a means by which to share God's good news? I am not talking about treating someone as if they are a project for a class. Far from it. But don't we share good news? How can we not share the BEST news?

Prayer and Legalism

"Since prayer is an aspect of our sanctification, our development or growth in godliness, it too must be understood as the fruit of what Christ has done for us. This is often the missing dimension in books and sermons on prayer...Problems emerge when the task of praying is urged without the motive and pattern of the unique saving role of Jesus. It then becomes a legalistic burden that cannot promote godliness...

"If my assessment has been accurate, it follows that many of our problems with prayer stem from a failure to understand the relationship of our praying to the ministry of Jesus, including his praying. A wrong perspective on prayer may well come from thinking of it as playing a part in establishing our acceptance with God. Prayer that is not the grateful response of the justified sinner is likely to degenerate into an attempt to gain acceptance. Then again, if the sole motive to pray is, as I have heard it put in sermons, 'Jesus got up early to pray, so how much more do we need to get up early to pray', it is missing the grace of God in the gospel. 'He did it, therefore we ought to' is not the perspective of the gospel unless it is linked with, 'He did it for us because we are unable to do it as we ought.'

"It comes down to the avoidance of legalism. Legalism is the name we give to the attempt to achieve righteousness, a right standing with God, by our own efforts in fulfilling the requirements of God. At root we understand that legalism is wrong, but we easily succumb to it without appreciating what is going on. The only answer to this is to keep reminding ourselves of what God has done for us as the central focus of the Bible."

from Prayer and the Knowledge of God by Graeme Goldsworthy

Monday, June 2, 2008

Essential Puritan Books

In keeping with my recent post on the five books I would like every church member to read I thought I'd follow up with a few more recommendations. As many of you know I love to read the Puritans. Their way of wedding passionate spirituality and sound doctrine stands to this day as a model for us all. Here are a few essentials:

1. Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

2. A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson

3. All Things for Good by Thomas Watson

4. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs

5. The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes

For a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the Puritans:
A Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer
The Devoted Life by Kapic & Gleason
Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken
Meet the Puritans by Beeke & Pederson

A Blessing To The City

“The city is full of care, and he who has to go there from day to day finds it to be a place of great wear and tear. It is full of noise, and stir, and bustle, and sore travail; many are its temptations, losses, and worries. But to go there with the divine blessing takes off the edge of its difficulty; to remain there with that blessing is to find pleasure in its duties, and strength equal to its demands.

“A blessing in the city may not make us great, but it will keep us good; it may not make us rich, but it will preserve us honest. Whether we are porters, or clerks, or managers, or merchants, or magistrates, the city will afford us opportunities for usefulness. It is good fishing where there are shoals of fish, and it is hopeful to work for our Lord amid the thronging crowds.”

- Charles Spurgeon

Imitating Jesus will not save you

"One of the most sinned-against biblical principles is that of the grace of God in the gospel as the pattern, motive and power for Christian living. Let us take the example of Jesus. The Christian church has always acknowledged the role of the imitation of Christ as a valid principle in Christian living. After all, if we cannot see Jesus as an example of the godly life, who can we see in this role? Yet the church has recognized, when it has sought to understand things in the light of the Bible, that Jesus did not come primarily to set an example. Following Jesus was not, for the disciples, solely a matter of trying to be like him in his perfect humanity. It was first of all a matter of believing in him as the unique fulfiller of the Old Testament prophecies of the Christ, the Savior who was to come to do for them what they were powerless to do for themselves. To keep the biblical perspective we need to see that imitation of Jesus is secondary to and the derivative of the acceptance of his unique role in doing things that can never be merely imitated. The Christian disciple imitates elements of Jesus' life and ministry such as serving one another and eve laying down one's life for others. But such serving can never achieve what Jesus' serving achieved in the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of all who believe.

"At root, the task of Christian living stems from the grace of God's actions for us in Christ. The tragedy of the church in the medieval period was that this relationship between God's grace and our works was radically altered through a redefinition of grace. How people lived the Christian life was seen as the grounds of their acceptance with God. In theological language, sanctification (personal holiness) became the grounds for justification (right standing with God); how holy we are was regarded as the basis of our acceptance by God. The sixteenth century Reformers saw the problem in this and proceeded to put the gospel right side up by stressing the centrality of the substitutionary work of Christ for us. The work that Christ did for us is primary, and it is the only basis or grounds for the work that Christ does in us by his Spirit."

- from Prayer and the Knowledge of God by Graeme Goldsworthy