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Tim Challies

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Discerning Your Call to Ministry
September 19, 2016

We know the concept and are well-familiar with the phrase: “called to ministry.” We know that some men are called in a special way to a special task—the task of gospel ministry. But exactly what constitutes the call, exactly how to understand it, exactly how to know we’ve experienced it—these are matters of more than a little confusion. Thankfully we have been well-served in recent years with books attempting to bring clarity. New to the field is Jason Allen’s Discerning Your Call to Ministry: How To Know For Sure And What To Do About It. It is a short guide, but one that packs a punch.

Allen begins by distinguishing between three related terms: called to minister, called to ministry, and called to the ministry. All Christians are called to minister, and church leaders are to equip the saints for this work—this work that is crucial to the functioning of God’s church. In this broad way every believer is a minister. Some Christians are called to ministry, to become involved in a vocation that has a significant ministry component. This might include counselors at Christian camps, coordinators of children’s ministries, or professors at seminaries. Then a few Christians are called to the ministry, the formal category defined in passages like Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and similar ones. The Bible refers to these people interchangeably as elders, pastors, overseers, or bishops. It is this final category that is the special concern of Allen’s book.

The Bible describes the function of these ministers and also describes the qualifications they must possess. Based on these, Allen frames his book around ten important questions. As a man prayerfully reads and considers these questions he will come to a deeper understanding of whether or not he is experiencing God’s call.

  • Do you desire the ministry?
  • Does your character meet God’s expectations?
  • Is your household in order?
  • Has God gifted you to teach and preach his Word?
  • Does your church affirm your calling?
  • Do you love the people of God?
  • Are you passionate about the gospel and the Great Commission?
  • Are you engaged in fruitful ministry?
  • Are you ready to defend the faith?
  • Are you willing to surrender?

Within these ten questions is an examination of a man’s character, knowledge, skill, and willingness to serve. Perhaps best of all is the constant call to seek and receive the affirmation of a local church, for the call to the ministry is not merely an internal call that a man feels but an external call he receives from those who have been called before him. This is an emphasis sorely lacking in too many similar books but present and repeated here. This is one of the most prominent strengths of Allen’s work.

The church is in desperate need of men who are willing, who are skilled, who are called. This book may be exactly what they need to evaluate themselves, to hear the call, and to heed the call. Discerning Your Call to Ministry comes endorsed by quite a list of trusted Christian leaders, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, Steven Lawson, and David Dockery among them. The accolades are well-earned and I gladly add my commendation to theirs. This little book is an excellent primer on the what, why, and how of the call to ministry. It is a book for pastors to have on-hand and to distribute freely. Even better, it is for them to read with the men in their churches who ask, “What about me?”

Sex Under Law, Sex Under Grace
September 19, 2016

As people of The Book we know that God did not only create sex, but he also created stipulations to go with it, for there must be boundaries on something so significant, so powerful. The clearest stipulation is that sex is for marriage—only for marriage. There are many reasons for this, and at least one of them reflects the loving, caring heart of God: Marriage allows us to enjoy sex under grace instead of under law. This is a crucial lesson Christopher Ash draws out in his book Married for God.

You know the difference between law and grace, I’m sure. Law is a system in which blessings and benefits are bestowed according to performance so that those who perform well enjoy benefits while those who perform poorly have benefits revoked or removed. Grace is a system in which blessings and benefits are contingent on covenant. Under grace, love and commitment compel patience, kindness, and endurance regardless of performance. A marriage relationship is a relationship of grace, not law, and such grace is crucial for the flourishing of sexual intimacy.

As a pastor—one who has performed weddings and counseled many couples—I know how many struggle mightily in the early days and months of marriage. So many couples quickly learn that sexual intimacy isn’t immediately as simple, pleasurable, successful, or fulfilling as they had expected, as they had wished, as they had seen modeled in a hundred Hollywood movies. For some this is the case for a short time and for some it is a lifelong struggle. Ash makes the crucial point that it is God’s good grace that gives us the secure context of marriage to persevere through such vulnerability, fragility, and even failure.

This is another way in which the marriage institution is a good gift of grace. For sex within marriage is sex under grace, with nothing to prove. A married couple may ‘do well’ or ‘do badly’ at sex, and cheerfully laugh about it knowing that their relationship is not threatened when they do badly. And even if the problems are too severe for them cheerfully to laugh, they can work patiently at them, knowing that the marriage does not depend on success in this area, but rather on the solemn public promises already made. For them, sex is “under grace,” within the security of promises made.

It is God’s wisdom and kindness that provide marriage as a secure context to figure out something that often presents such difficulties. As married people, and especially people who believe that marriage is a lifelong commitment rather than a mere covenant of convenience, we have the joy of working patiently at sex, knowing that our performance never threatens to change the nature of our relationship. Great sexual performance does nothing to build or strengthen the foundation of marriage and poor sexual performance does nothing to undermine it. This is such sweet comfort for those just getting started and equal comfort for those suddenly discovering unexpected troubles. Marriage is equally secure when sex is lacking as when it is plentiful.

But this is not the case for sex outside of marriage, for “sex outside marriage is always sex ‘under law’ (as it were): always seeking to prove, always striving to do well enough to keep the other one in the relationship, always anxious lest at any time the other may decide there is not enough in it for him or her, always under trial.” When sex is removed from marriage, it reverts to law, where blessings and benefits are bestowed based on performance. We often hear of people cohabiting to determine their level of sexual compatibility. “How else will we know if we can have a successful marriage?” This is sex under law! This is sex that must prove itself, that must provide sufficient quantity and quality to keep the other person interested and committed. This is sex diminished, hampered, crippled, blasphemed. Adultery, too, is sex under law, with the relationship depending on its frequency and titillation. Fornication is sex under law, with the relationship existing only as long as the sex is plentiful and exciting. Any sex outside of God’s good stipulations is sex under the terrible burden of law.

But marriage is sex under grace, sex with nothing to prove, sex that is free to flourish without fear of failure. “A couple may sleep together and not be married. But if they make their public vows, then they are married, whether or not they then succeed in consummating the marriage. A marriage where the couple fail to have sexual intercourse (for physical or psychological reasons) is still a marriage, albeit a sad and frustrating one. This is important, so that the vulnerabilities and fragility of learning sexual intimacy may take place within the secure context of knowing the promises have been firmly made. At no point in marriage do husband or wife need to prove anything by successful sex.”

This is freedom, this is joy: That neither a husband nor a wife have to prove anything to one another by successful sex. For they live and make love within a sweet covenant of grace.

September 19, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include a pretty good selection from Crossway (Ancient Word, Changing World by Stephen Nichols & Eric Brandt; Understanding Scripture edited by Wayne Grudem; Why Trust the Bible? by Greg Gilbert; Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? by James Hoffmeier) and Matthis Media (Saving Eutychus by Gary Miller & Phil Campbell; Wisdom in Leadership by Craig Hamilton; One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm; etc). Browse them all here.

A Trillion First Responders

“It’s the largest security force in the world. A teeming network of first responders that live on nearly every surface of your body, inside and out. They’re not part of the body, like your immune system—they’re immigrants—but they’re still naturalized citizens, and without them your world couldn’t function.”

The Frozen Standard Version

Alan Jacobs provides his take on the final text of the ESV (both the reality of a final text and the actual text they chose to finalize).

The Mystery of Van Gogh’s Final Breakdown

“Researchers and biographers have speculated for years what exactly caused his mental deterioration, but no one has been able to definitively say, though a recent analysis by a team of experts concluded that Van Gogh suffered from repeated ‘psychosis’ in his final 18 months.”

Find a Friend to Wound You

“After the initial assault on my pride, a wave of gratitude and relief washed over me. Finally, the truth I had been evading — the God I had been evading — caught me. God used a friend’s honesty to awaken me from spiritual slumber.”

What Is Preaching Anyway?

Jared Wilson: “Contrary to popular wisdom, good preaching has little to do with eloquence, fashion, or the length of a sermon. Good preaching is all about content and posture.”

This Day in 1853. 163 years ago today James Hudson Taylor set sail from England to China where he later founded the China Inland Mission. *

Why Do We Say “Roger” or “Roger That?”

Here’s the orgin of “roger” or “roger that” as a form of confirmation.

The Biggest Temple in Town

David Mathis: “Many Christians aren’t allured in the least by spectator sports. God bless you. But for those of us who claim Jesus as Lord and also get hyped about our favorite teams, we need a regular soul-check. And especially at the onset of football season.”

Flashback: How an App Revitalized My Prayer Life

It has been at least a couple of years since I made the move from organizing my prayers in a book to organizing my prayers in an app, and, at least for now, I don’t ever see myself going back.

God loves you right now. He doesn’t love some future version of you that tries harder or is more obedient. —Justin Holcomb

September 18, 2016

It’s time for a new batch of letters to the editor. These week’s letters address three topics and come from all over the world. As you will see, the majority of them address that tricky matter of whether or not it is okay for Christians to decide deliberately not to have children. But first, there’s a letter from a friend.

Letters on Simple Ways to Spark a Lukewarm Devotional Life

David Powlison kindly sent along a lengthy but helpful letter on sparking a lukewarm devotional life and I felt it was worth sharing in its entirety.

Here’s another item to add to the list, something I’ve found extremely significant in my life. Lukewarmness is not only about the Bible seeming dull and distant. It is equally about our souls becoming dull and distant from how we are doing and what we are facing.

Scripture’s relevance arises because it is exactly keyed our daily, real life struggles. Feel the sting of your sins; feel the weight of the life pressures you are facing; feel concern for the struggles (sins and afflictions) of those you love—and you will know where you need immediate help from the Lord. Whenever we become vividly aware of where we actually need outside help today, Scripture comes alive. Promises speak exactly the hope you need. Commands give exactly the guidance that will set you free. God’s perspective is exactly the perspective that will reframe whatever you are facing. And stories demonstrate how other saints have struggled in very similar ways—different in every detail, but similar in pattern. We do not live by bread alone but by every word from the mouth of God. That’s true in detail, not just as a noble sentiment to profess.  

So, for example, Philippians 4:6 speaks a life-rearranging word: “Don’t be anxious about anything.” That’s not just a vague good intention and a call to calm down. It invites you in. Begin your devotional time by stopping to ponder these questions: “What are all the things I’m anxious about? What’s stressing me? Where am I brooding on yesterday or apprehensive about tomorrow?” The entire context in Philippians 4 will explode with significance, with relevant promises, with guidance, with invitations to hard thinking about the intersection of God’s truth with your life, with awareness that you must pray real prayers to the real God whom you really need.

Or consider how the Psalms are written to draw us in and express our life experience. Psalm 25, for example, grapples with feeling the assaults of a godless world, with sensing ones personal need for the Lord’s mercy and instruction, with honest distress at life’s pressures and afflictions, with awareness that brothers and sisters face these same problems and need similar help. It is guaranteed that some or all these realities are relevant today. Unlike the Bible’s stories, a psalm speaks in experiential general categories, inviting us to fill in our details. And psalms do the same thing with the promises of God. We are given summary categories: steadfast love, faithfulness, mercy, blessing, watchful care, refuge, and the like. These speak to us in their own right; they can also be filled in with New Testament details. 

Or consider how the Proverbs are written to provide immediate flashes of insight into what you are pursuing in life, what voices you listen to, how you talk with other people, how you relate to sex, money, food, drink, rest, work. They are relevant. How can we bring our day into contact with a beam of light? One could do worse than simply read in Proverbs until something strikes home, and then take that one striking bit of wisdom out into the day.

It is impossible for our devotional life to stay same-old same-old when we awaken to the intersection of two things: 1) what is really happening in my life?, and 2) how does who God is touch what is really happening? The blessing on the “poor in spirit” comes first for a reason. When we know our need for outside help, for gifts that only the Lord can give, then the kingdom of God is at hand in our day today.
—David Powlison

Letters on The High Calling of Bringing Order From Chaos

I’d just like to say thanks for this article. It’s a great reminder amongst the drudgery of daily chores that each action has purpose and dignity. It is too easy to believe the lies that much of daily life is repetitive and purposeless. Yet it is all ordained by God and given to us for our good. Thanks. I’ll keep this in mind when I pick up after the kids… again.
—Jane S, Brisbane, Australia

Comments on Is It Okay Deliberately Not to Have Children?

Your article was excellent. For those of us who cannot have children, there is another compelling problem – must we pursue having children by other means, and how far do we take this? In an era of increasing infertility, IVF, surrogacy and whatever else, those strongly (and rightly) desiring a child can be tempted to pursue this desire to great lengths and at any cost. I realise this is a whole different topic to your article, but one also worthy of greater exploration.
—Elizabeth C, Canberra, Australia


I really appreciate everything you continue to do for the church, Tim. I just had one caveat to this particular article. It may help explain an example of what constitutes an “exception”. My wife and I both desire to have biological children, but we have not been actively trying to for years because of my wife’s serious health issues which prevent her from sitting and have caused her many painful back problems. We have tried many things to help, even surgery, but it hasn’t yet resulted in what we had hoped for. This is why we are looking at adoption, possibly of an older child so they will not require my wife to sit as much. On the positive side, this has allowed her to spend more time discipling other women, even using her physical suffering as an example of God’s perfect purposes for her, and for me to lead a street evangelism ministry. I guess I’m trying to say that there are other valid physical reasons for not trying to have biological children than we often think of. Perhaps in our case, your statement should read “try to have biological children or adopted children.” That would help clarify more exceptions that exist for people in our situation that people often don’t think about. Thanks!
— Jeremy Z, Hudson, WI


I thoroughly enjoyed your recent article on whether or not it is ok for a Christian couple to abstain from having children. While your article did mention that for some they may not be able to have children you seemed to have left out the option of adoption. So my question is whether or not it is okay for a Christian couple who is perfectly able to have children to choose not to and instead choose adoption? I often feel like adoption is every parent’s second choice, or it is only something a family does after having biological children. But what if this is their first choice and do not want to have children by natural means?
—Scott R, Wake Forest, NC


Your article is very good but misses a reason for deliberate childlessness which is, I think, rather more serious and merits some attention. For many persons (Christians included, see John 16:33), we live in a world filled with pain and senselessness. Even a good life is difficult to bear for many persons. So, why bring children to the world only to be subjected to a difficult, painful existence? See Ecclesiastes 4:2-3 for a similar point of view. Thanks!
—Eduardo S, Asunción, Paraguay


I appreciate your insight in writing about a question I have struggled to answer myself as Christians I know begin to consider deliberate childlessness. Though no reasons will suffice (children cannot be imposed on anyone), your article has given me the arguments to defend my point of view.

I consider procreation a crucible to develop generosity and believe choosing childlessness is the ultimate expression of materialism and self-centeredness, in choosing things and what money can buy over people.

That being said, a question remains. If we can choose how many children to have, couldn’t we choose to dismiss them altogether? Isn’t birth control also a rebellion against God’s sovereignty and a desire to fulfill his plans for fruitfulness our way?
—Adriana F, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic


Recently you wrote about the question “Is It Okay Deliberately Not To Have Children?” with reference to Christopher Ash. Most of the time I find myself agreeing with you, or at least respecting your well thought-out thoughts. However this time, I feel maybe you have erred somewhat.

First of all let me say that, to Christians who do and want to have children, they are indeed blessings - an “inconvenient blessing”, maybe, but a blessing nonetheless. They are not only a blessing to parents, but to others, and to God as well - in time. However, to create out of this a Biblical mandate that all Christians are commanded to have children seems something of a stretch.

Putting aside for a moment the blessings that do come from having children, you refer to three pieces of evidence for your conclusions: Psalm 127:3-5, Genesis 1:28, and Genesis 1:26-27. You state that “they build a solid case” for your conclusions, but it really feels like you’ve pulled them out of context. God’s command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” was for the creation of humanity - not a command for all people, but for a specific time and place. Childlessness as a curse is understandable, in a culture which valued lines of succession, family, etc, and in which older members of the family were reliant upon children for their survival. And humans may still be God’s most important creation without there being a hidden mandate for more and more children.

In the end, does the Bible command Christian couples to have children? No, I do not believe it does. It commands them to follow God’s will for their lives, and throughout all I can remember of the New Testament, that is never combined with a command to have children.
—Josh H, Melbourne, Australia

Give Up the Ghost
September 17, 2016

There are all kinds of phrases and idioms we use day to day even though we have lost their origins. We know what they mean, we know when to use them, but we don’t know where we got them. In so many cases they come to us by way of the Bible, and especially the King James Bible. This is exactly the case with the common little phrase “Give up the ghost.”

The Expression

We use the expression “give up the ghost” to describe death—the disconnection of the soul (the ghost) from the body. Yet today we would not use the phrase in a solemn occasion (“We are gathered here today to honor our friend who gave up the ghost on Saturday”). Rather, we tend to use it humorously to describe the “death” of something that is inanimate or relatively unimportant, as in “My iPhone finally gave up the ghost.” A small-town newspaper laments, “History is strewn with towns that gave up the ghost when companies moved on” while a home renovation column in the Sydney Morning Herald begins “The vanity unit in our bathroom gave up the ghost recently, and as we are saving for a major renovation in a few years…” In this way we use it as a form of personification, to make it seem as if something has greater significance than it does intrinsically.

The Origin

The phrase was popularized by the King James Version of the Bible, though the King James drew from the Coverdale Bible. The KJV uses it in a number of passages: Luke 23:46 and John 19:30 when describing the death of Jesus and Acts 12:23 when describing the death of Herod. “And immediately the angel of the Lord smote [Herod], because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.” Most current translation render “gave up the ghost” as “breathed his last” or simply “die.” A quick check of the Greek shows that the John passage is different from the others in that it explicitly references “pneuma” or “spirit.” Thus the ESV does well to translate it differently from the other two: “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” It is only here where “give up the ghost” is a literal rather than idiomatic expression.

The Application

Though the idiom is no longer used in modern Bible translations, it lives on in the culture around us. In this way it gives us reason to consider its significance. It is drawn most naturally from John 19:30 and, thus, from the most momentous event in human history—the death of Jesus Christ. There is much we can and should learn from it. We see that Jesus “gave up his spirit” and this reminds us that Jesus was fully human even while he was fully God. There is and was unity of body and soul, of the material and the immaterial. And then we see that he “gave up his spirit.” This reminds us of his uniqueness, for there was something active rather than passive in this “giving up.” To the end, Jesus was willingly enduring his suffering and sacrifice. Yes, he was dragged to the court and the cross, yes he was nailed to the tree, but all the while he was willing, he was still in control. He was willing to suffer in this way even while he had the power and authority to make it stop. This is consistent with what he said in John 10:17-18: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

And finally, this little phrase is a call for us to remember that we, too, are more than bodies, more than what can be seen, touched, and killed. Though our bodies can and will be destroyed, in that moment we, too, will give up the ghost. The soul will live on until it is at last reunited to a body that is remade, restored, and perfected. This is the great promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Not surprisingly, many Christian songs express worship for these beautiful realities. “In Christ Alone” is a stirring example:

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

September 17, 2016

I’m spending the weekend down here in Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m hoping I’ll be able to meet a few of you today at The Forging Men Conference or tomorrow at Bible Church of Little Rock.

How To Get Logos 7

Purchasing Logos Bible Software can be a little bit complicated. This article explains the various options.

I Was a Teenage Pastor

H.B. Charles Jr. (a preacher I always love to listen to) on “What diving into church leadership at 17 taught me about building a ministry that lasts.” You might want to skip up to the 8-minute mark to skip the banter between the hosts.

What Is a Vector?

You’ve probably heard the word “vector” used in various contexts. This little video explains what they are and why they are so useful.

Would You Kiss Your Bride Through a Veil?

There’s a great title for an article on the importance of knowing the original biblical languages.

Stop the Revolution. Join the Plodders

Kevin DeYoung levels an important challenge.

This Day in 1575. 441 years ago today Swiss reformer Henry Bullinger died. Bullinger had arguably the greatest influence on second-generation Reformers after John Calvin. *

Don’t Be a 9Marxist!

9Marks has a kind of warning against misusing their material. “9Marks talks a lot about authority in the church—authority in preaching, authority in membership and discipline practices, authority among the elders. The thing is, sinners like us easily abuse the authority that God gives. So even as 9Marks encourages churches to avoid the squishy complacency of nominal Christianity, we also don’t want churches to err in the direction of being doctrinaire and authoritarian.”

A Family Affair

Carl Trueman looks at a situation of a mother and daughter who are in trouble for marrying one another. This leads to an examination of consent as the ultimate determiner of morality.

Millennials Don’t Need Your “Cool”

My thanks goes to CLC Publications for sponsoring the blog this week.

Flashback: Compromising God’s Standards for Sexuality

“As Christians we are adept at looking at the culture around us and seeing how it is violating God’s good standards when it comes to sexuality. Not too long ago, though, I was asked to reflect on the ways in which Christians may compromise God’s standards for sexuality…”

Open transgression of God’s law slays its thousands, but wordliness its tens of thousands.J.C. Ryle 

Free Stuff Fridays Updated
September 16, 2016

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by CLC Publications. They are giving away a great set of books for the Christian family. The Family Pack from CLC Publications contains Faith That Lasts, The Unfair Advantage and The Parent Map, and is ideal for any family looking for great, practical ways to incorporate more gospel-centered living into their lives and interactions with one another.

Enter Here

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.