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Spiritual Drafting
April 18, 2016

I’m no fan of most forms of racing. Cars, horses, drones, people—none of them do much for me. I find bicycle racing especially drab, except for those Olympic sprint events that suddenly grab my attention every four years. I do not know a whole lot about racing (which may well be why I don’t enjoy racing), but I do know enough to understand what they call drafting. Drafting is when a rider tucks himself immediately behind another racer, often settling just inches off his rear tire. When he does this, the lead rider has to muscle through the air resistance while the follower can enjoy the little vacuum that forms behind. The first rider has to work just a little bit harder which allows the second to conserve energy for that final push. In other words, the second rider benefits from the strength and diligence of the first.

Drafting is a great strategy for racing. Drafting is a lousy strategy for Christian living. Yet I fear that many Christians allow themselves to fall into a form of spiritual drafting. Let me explain—and let’s not push the analogy too hard since eventually, like any example, metaphor, or parable, it will eventually fall apart!

A number of times I have spoken to a woman and heard her admit that she essentially drafts behind her husband. She takes comfort in her husband’s spiritual strength and discipline but neglects her own. She goes to church when he is around but is quick to bail when he is not. She allows him to carry the load when it comes to teaching and training the children, when it comes to reading and praying with them. She doesn’t only allow him to take the lead (as, indeed, he should) but uses his leadership as a quiet excuse to not put in much effort of her own. She finds that the family is in good shape spiritually but admits that this is far more because she rides in his draft than that she is full-out pursuing the Lord. If he stopped putting in the effort, she would have little strength of her own.

Just as many times I have spoken to a man who confesses, perhaps a bit more sheepishly, that he drafts behind his wife. She is the one who has the living, vital relationship with the Lord and he coasts behind it. She is the one who guards her time to ensure she has a time of personal devotion each day. He allows her to be the one who suggests that they read the Bible and pray together. He expects that she will be the one to call the children for Bible and prayer. The family is doing well enough spiritually, but he can’t deny that it owes more to her effort than to his. He is drafting, taking advantage of her spiritual strength so he can put in little effort of his own.

It isn’t just husbands and wives. Teenaged children can coast along behind their parents instead of learning to pursue God on their own and determining they will personally develop spiritual strength and discipline. Church members can nestle in behind the few who are especially godly and neglect their personal spiritual walk. Sometimes the vast majority of the work of prayer, evangelism, or service is done by just a few members, often an indication that many are gladly coasting along, enjoying the greater efforts of the few. It’s all drafting.

Drafting is a concern because it is an indication of complacency. We all benefit from observing other Christians and seeing how they live the Christian life. This is God’s grace to us, giving us men and women who are worthy of imitation, putting people in our lives who are stronger than we are spiritually. But having such strong believers in our lives is meant to drive us to imitate them, not to simply take advantage of their efforts. Their example is meant to spur us on to greater earnestness in our spiritual lives, greater discipline in our pursuit of holiness.

The antidote to drafting is zeal, that quality we bring to so many of life’s pursuits but are prone to neglect when it comes to our faith. This is a good time to pull in that common biblical metaphor of the race. The Bible tells us that the Christian life is a race—not a race against one another but against the old man as we overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is a race that demands everything we have. It requires every effort. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1) We are to lay aside everything that hinders us, everything that slows us, including complacency. This race requires zeal deliberately directed to the highest pursuit.

We may think some people are naturally zealous or supernaturally gifted with spiritual fervor. Perhaps so. But my observation is that zealous Christians are those who are most committed to the awesomely ordinary means of grace—Word, prayer, worship, sacrament. This deep commitment to ordinary means is the fuel to their fire. This is a tremendous relief but also a significant challenge because it assures us that zeal is available to all Christians. Zeal is not bestowed only on the few and the gifted but is available to all who will follow the Spirit’s conviction. If you can honestly admit that you are drafting, putting in little effort of your own because of the greater effort of the one you follow, today is the day to confess that sin of complacency before God, to ask him to grant you godly fervor, and to pursue the means he offers to ignite such zeal.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Our Forgetful God
April 15, 2016

There are some things I just can’t forget. There are some wrongs done to me that I cannot erase from my mind. I try, I pray. I don’t want to remember them. I don’t want them to remain in my memory or to come back to my mind. But somehow I can’t forget them. Somehow, sooner or later, they come back, flooding me once again with all of those thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

There are some things God just can’t remember. Perhaps better said, there are some things God just won’t remember. There are some wrongs done to him that he will not bring back to his mind. He doesn’t want to remember them. He doesn’t need to remember them. They never come back, flooding him with all of those thoughts, feelings, and emotions. They are erased from his mind and gone forever.

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (Hebrews 10:17).

Looking at all of this evidence, Charles Spurgeon says, “This is a wonder to me, a wonder of wonders, that God should say that He will do what in some sense He cannot do—that He should use speech which includes impossibility, and yet that it should be strictly true as He intends it.” He intends for us to know that “His pardon is so true and deep that it amounts to an absolute oblivion, a total forgetting of all the wrong-doing of the pardoned ones.” God puts aside our sin so thoroughly, so utterly, so completely that it is like he has forgotten it altogether. He has so dealt with our sin that he does not ponder it, he does not ruminate over it, he does not allow it to change the way he thinks of us, he does not look for further justification to make right our wrong-doings. “The Great Father’s heart is not brooding over the injuries we have done. His infinite mind is not revolving within itself the tale of our iniquities. Ah, no. If we have fled to Christ for refuge, the Lord remembers our sin no more. The record of our iniquity is taken away, and the judge has no judicial memory of it.”

The very things I cannot forget are the very things God will not remember.

Image credit: Shutterstock

How To Finish Over 100 Books in 2016
April 14, 2016

My friend Bryan DeWire is like me in that he loves to read. He loves to read and loves to share his love of reading with others. While I’m finishing up my stint at Together for the Gospel, he put together this article for me—an article of tips on how to finish more books. Happy reading!


Finishing 100 books in a year is not as hard as it might sound—if you put a little variety in your technique. Books are accessible to us in so many ways. Obviously, you can read the printed page. But you can sometimes read free PDF’s (think of Desiring God’s books). You can read eBooks on your Kindle, Nook, smart phone, iPad, and computer. You can read books on Bible software programs like Accordance and Logos. You can even get others to read to you on audiobooks!

Taking advantage of all this technology enables me to finish a relatively large amount of books. The key has been figuring out what kind of book matches up best with what kind of medium. Obviously, what works for me might not work well for you, and vice-versa. But these ideas might get your creative juices flowing and help you more strategically get through more ofthe many books you want to read. Here are some of the factors I think through when I decide if I want to go through a book on the printed page, electronically, or audibly.

Print Books

My default preference for finishing a book is to simply read a physical, printed copy. I love the feel and the smell of books. I love book covers that are tastefully done. I love marking page after page with a pen, compiling my own index of themes and highlights, and connecting various parts of the book. If I get free time by myself, it’s likely I will read a printed book.

Now there are certain types of books that will almost guarantee I choose the printed version rather than the e- or audio version. If it’s a book I know Iwant to mark up a lot—if I cannot NOT mark it up—then I will purchase the print version, even if it’s more expensive than the other versions. For example, I am very likely to mark up books by John Piper (like When I Don’t Desire God), C.S. Lewis (like Mere Christianity), and Sinclair Ferguson (like, most recently, The Whole Christ).

eBooks

That said, there are definitely still factors that will make me go the e-version route. For example, so many great eBooks are made available for very cheap or completely free—I’m talking classic after classic for free! I also love being able to easily hold big books—400, 500, 1,000 page books—in my hand. Perhaps you’ve been wanting to read a book like Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden or A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones. And perhaps you haven’t done so simply because it’s so bulky to carry around. Then, I would suggest purchasing and reading the e-version.

On a related note, I have found that reading on an e-reader helps big books feel smaller and enables me to not get distracted. Who hasn’t had the daunting experience of reading through books with massive pages (like, say, The Works of Jonathan Edwards)? Sometimes you wonder if you’re evergoing to finish that page! But reading on an e-reader screen can help. (And how amazing is it that backlit electronic paper screens can be read in both pitch black rooms and beneath direct sunlight?) Likewise, if you’re looking to improve your attention span, consider the e-reader. My experience has been very similar to Alan Jacobs’s: 

“In short, once you start reading a book on the Kindle—and this is equally true of the other e-readers I’ve tried—the technology generates an inertia that makes it significantly easier to keep reading than to do anything else. E-readers, unlike many other artifacts of the digital age, promote linearity—they create a forward momentum that you can reverse if you wish, but not without some effort… .

“I found my ability to concentrate, and concentrate for long periods of time, restored almost instantly.” (The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, pp. 81–82)

So, if there is a biography or some fiction or devotional you’ve been putting off—if you’ve been daunted by the idea of trekking through such books—consider reading the e-version.

Audiobooks

There are numerous options for listening to audiobooks. My aunt has given me a half-year subscription to audiobooks.com the past two Christmases, and I have enjoyed it. Similar to what I noted above, you can listen to many classics and other books in the public domain for free on LibriVox. A couple years ago, our family subscribed to Audible and we’ve really made it worth the investment (plus it’s the most user-friendly audio option I’ve found). We get books for our kids (like Charlotte’s Web—read by E. B. White!—and Winnie-the-Pooh). We get great stories for ourselves (like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—read by Elijah Wood!—and the Master and Commander series—read by Patrick Tull!). And I’ve heard fantastic feedback on the newly released Harry Potter audio series. Nothing makes long road trips enjoyable quite like a good audiobook.

But you don’t need a long road trip to enjoy audiobooks. You can listen while driving to work, brushing your teeth, and exercising. I listen to books while feeding our (sometimes screaming) 3-month-old. Last year, I started going for a 20-minute, post-lunch walk every day—and few things make me feel as productive as listening to an audiobook (on 2x or sometimes even 3x speed!) while walking. And while such opportunities are pretty rare for knowledge workers, I do even find “mindless” work each week where I can get things done while listening to an audiobook.

When I’m looking for an audiobook, I mainly try to think of bigger books I’m interested in, but probably won’t get around to reading anytime soon. So, I’ll choose books on politics, business books, or biographies that aren’t on my must-read list. There are certain book categories I’ve come across in The 2016 Reading Challenge that I don’t naturally gravitate toward, and finding the audio version has helped me knock quite a few of them off the list. (If you’re looking for an entertaining and edifying book, I would highly recommend listening to the brand-new book This Is Awkward by Sammy Rhodes.)

A Bonus Tip

You know how certain foods are so good for you that they’re considered power foods? Some examples include salmon, kale, avocados, raw honey, and so on. Think of this last tip as a power tip. It is a habit I just happened upon over 10 years ago, but it has greatly helped me become a better reader. At the time, I had read C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters a few times. But I had just recently gotten ahold of the audio version, so I started listening to it. But then it hit me—and this is the power tip: You can listen to a book while you’re reading it!

That insight might seem obvious to you—perhaps it is obvious. But I know it has worked wonders for me. How so? When I only read a book, the temptation is to go slowly, constantly re-read words, and get bogged down and, therefore, lose the flow of the book. On the other hand, when I only listen to a book, the temptation is to let my mind wander and focus on anything other than the audiobook. But by reading and listening to a book, I am able to both keep making progress (because the audio continues to play) and keep my focus (because my eyes are engaged with the words). This tip has helped me especially with books that are a bit heady (as C.S. Lewis joyfully tends to be). So, however you choose which books for which medium, I encourage you to get creative with how you engage with books—and thus finish more of them!

How and Why to Pray for T4G
April 12, 2016

Maybe we are growing too accustomed to these Reformed mega-conferences. If that’s the case, we should think back to the time—it was only a few years ago—when there appeared to be an inverse relationship between a conference’s attendance and its doctrinal soundness. For many years it was true that the conferences that held to Reformed theology were sparsely attended. But then something happened and today we can choose from any number of great conferences centered around proclaiming the deepest truth.

This week, more than 8,000 people will gather in Louisville, Kentucky, for the 2016 Together for the Gospel conference; thousands more will watch the livestream. Though all kinds of people attend, it is primarily an event by and for pastors and is meant to teach, challenge, and equip church leaders. I believe the Lord has used this event in remarkable ways since it began 10 years ago, and I think there is every reason he will do so again this year. To that end I want to encourage you—whether or not you are going and whether or not you know someone who is going—to pray that God would meet this group in powerful ways. Just think what God can do when 8,000 church leaders gather together to hear God speak through his Word!

So please pray, and perhaps pray in some of these ways:

For Speakers and Organizers

  • Pray that God would help the planners finish up last-minute preparations for the thousands who are arriving in Louisville.
  • Pray that God would give the pre-conference, side seminar, and plenary speakers wisdom and boldness as they proclaim their messages.
  • Pray that God would give the speakers the humility they need to direct all praise and glory to God.

For Attenders

  • Pray that God would encourage the hearts of those Christian leaders who feel particularly stuck in their sins or discouraged at their people that this would be a time of true refreshment.
  • Pray that God would use the 160,000 books that will be given away to give these leaders greater wisdom and understanding.
  • Pray that God would let the fellowship of these leaders be sweet, enlightening, and mutually beneficial as they encourage one another in the faith.
  • Pray that God would manifest his presence through the times of worship in song and prayer.
  • Pray that God would bring about his global kingdom purposes through this conference as people go to all the nations to proclaim the gospel.
  • Pray that God would let there be unity through diversity as people gather from across denominations and across the world.
  • Pray that God would allow new friendships to form at the event.
  • Pray that God would use the print, audio, and video resources that come out of this conference to accomplish all these purposes for those who are not able to come to the conference.
  • Pray that God would allow the thousands of men in attendance to leave a favorable impression of Christians on the city of Louisville as they interact with hotel managers, restaurant servers, airport personnel, and so on.
  • Pray that God would bless the people attending with safety. (The growing security concerns are reflected in the reality that to get into the event, people must pass through a metal detector—now a standard procedure when entering the KFC Yum! Center.)
  • Pray that God would bless the families the conference attendees have left behind.

Finally, I plan to be there and would love to meet you. It is always so encouraging and humbling to meet those who take time to read my blog and my books. If you see me, please do say hello. 

I Wish I Was Rich
April 11, 2016

Surely you’ve had the filthy-rich daydream before, right? Maybe you heard about the latest tech billionaire who turned a little app into gold by selling it to Facebook or Google. Or maybe you heard of lotteries with their prizes stretching into the hundreds of millions or the guy who made the little investment in just the right company at just the right time. You heard about it and thought, “I wish I was rich. I know what I’d do with that money.”

If you’ve had the daydream, you have undoubtedly considered what a generous Christian could do with hundreds of millions of dollars. Think of the ventures he could support, the churches he could build, the missionaries he could sponsor. Let your mind run free for a few minutes and you could draw up a plan to spend every dollar and cent for the good of the kingdom. And you would, right?

In all probability you will never be rich. You will never have hundreds of millions of dollars to allocate to one ministry or the other. You will never be the person divvying up your billions before you die. But you don’t need a million or a billion to know what you would do with extravagant wealth. You can simply look at your current patterns and project from there. If you aren’t being extravagantly generous with the bit you have now, what makes you think that having more would suddenly make all the difference? Generosity isn’t about how much you have, but what you do with the bit you do have. It isn’t about what you would do with more, but what you actually do with what you’ve got.

How are you using the wealth God has already given you? Are you attentive? Are you creative? Are you generous? Do you give enough that it makes a difference to you and your family (so you have less than you otherwise would) and to the lives or ministries of others (so they have more than they otherwise would)? If you aren’t being generous today with modest wealth there is no reason to think you would be generous tomorrow with abundant wealth.

It strikes me that in Jesus’ parable of the talents (see Matthew 25) the questions and expectations are the same for all three servants, whether they had been given five talents or two or one. The mark of faithful stewardship was proportional to what had been entrusted to them by their master. The one who had been given five returned ten, the one who had been given two returned four; there was no comparison or competition between them, for each had been equally faithful with their unequal endowment. In all likelihood, God will never call you to be that five-talent servant, the one who has been given the extravagant wealth. But whether he gives you two or one, the expectation is the same—that you will steward it with joy and generosity to carry out the work of God on earth.

You already have enough money—enough to do what God means for you to do, enough to prove your loyalty to him and your disloyalty to money. You already have enough to make a difference in lives and ministries. You already have enough to be as generous or as stingy as you would be with billions. Rather than spending your days dreaming about what you would do if you had more, spend your days working hard to make a living and then give with joyful generosity (see Ephesians 4:28, 1 Thessalonians 4:11). When the day comes that God requires an accounting for all he has entrusted to you, I suspect you will be content that God did not entrust you with even more. I suspect you will agree with his wisdom in giving you just two talents or one.

Image credit: Shutterstock

April 10, 2016

There were quite a number of letters to the editor this week, and they were mostly related to two articles. Once again, my gratitude goes to all those who took the time to write.

Comments on Did God Break the Law for Love?

To add to your excellent refutation of Furtick, whom I confess I had never heard of until I read your article, there’s a bit of apples-and-oranges confusion with his example of the parent breaking speed laws to rush a hurt child to the hospital. Speed laws are “malum prohibitum”, meaning an unlawful act only by virtue of statute. But he wants to use that to prove that God has broken law that is “malem in se”, that is, conduct that is evil in and of itself. “Malem prohibitum” and “malem in se” are two very very different things and only by conflating them does Furtick’s poor analogy work. A more consistent analogy would be to have the parent killing another person who is standing in the way of getting his child to the hospital, or maybe even stealing a car because the parent’s car broke down. I think these would be more honest elucidations of the complexities that can occur when one ethical value comes in contact with another.
—Kevin G, Eugene OR

Tim: Thank you for this clarification. I think a lot of people intuitively understood that the analogy failed, but not why it failed. This helps explain it.

***

I agreed with all you had to say. The thing I really liked was how you heard beneath what the other pastor said, and you encouraged and explained where he was coming from. So often I see remarks that would say how bad or stupid the other pastor was. Thank you for showing love.
—Peggy G, Bremen OH

Tim: I include this one primarily because of the ones that follow it, some of which say that I labelled Furtick a false teacher (something I did not do) and because they all ask if I approached him directly.

***

My son attended Elevation Church while in school near Charlotte and grew in his faith under the preaching of Steven Furtick. My husband and I attended once with my son and nothing we heard made us feel he is a false teacher. (Of course, it was only 1 sermon.) I do, however, agree that if this is indeed what he preached, he is wrong. I will try to find the entire sermon and listen as well. My question is… Have you contacted Steven Furtick to discuss this? I would be curious to know the outcome of that conversation.
—Marti S, Gordo AL

***

Thank you for this recent article. I truly love to listen to Steven Furtick speak. I believe he is passionate about the Lord and what he has done for us. I find at times he is a throw back to the days of great preachers that passionately share the Good News. That being said I do agree with your theological assessment of this statement. I am concerned that he spoke the way he did trying to make a point but instead did not think through the wording carefully. My question to you is did you contact him and ask him for a response? I ask because I often feel that dialogue is a more gracious response to just labeling someone as a false teacher. I respect you and your blog I have learn a great deal by reading it. I just thought I would ask.
—Rod K, Oak Ridge NJ

Tim: For a number of reasons I did not approach Furtick before sharing the article. In the first place, he released it to the public via social media, a medium that presupposes interaction. Second, I have no relationship with him or, as far as I know, anyone who knows him, so I wouldn’t know how to get in touch with him. Third, I don’t think it is necessary from a biblical standpoint since this is not an issue of interpersonal conflict but public statements. Furthermore, I did not charge him with being a heretic or false teacher, but simply interacted with one of his sermons.

***

Thank you for the time and effort you put into your work. This is not the result of a strong feeling about something you wrote as much as a question about it. Do you think Steven Furtick and you have defined “The law of love” differently in your two expositions around the phrase? I appreciate that you did mention that Furtick’s sermon was “muddy,” however it seems that in this blog you have taken one of what you have admitted are many possible understandings, claimed it as “the” intended message, and then discounted it. It also seems to me that the muddy word in this whole conversation is “law,” or the phrase “law of love.” For instance, if you define the “law of love” as “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself,” then your words are necessary and good. However, if you define “law of love” as “the feeling of care and responsibility of a parent toward a child that, in that parent’s mind, justifies breaking the laws of the road in order to get an injured child to care,” then perhaps the tone of the blog could/should have been different. The fact that neither of us can rightly claim to know that for sure (I agree it is muddy) suggests that perhaps the article would have better served the church if it were either a call for clarity, or an exposition of all possible interpretations of the mud, rather than an attack of another Christian leader. I am tempted to believe that your motive here was the notoriety you may claim from attacking a popular figure, however I will simply ask you if that was the case or not, and accept your answer without malice. How much better would your blog have been if you had simply written Furtick, okay his staff, an email and ask for clarification, regardless of the answer?
—Matt C, Raleigh NC

Tim: Certainly the issue of what Furtick means by “the law” is a little bit up in the air. That said, I think the context, and especially the Bible quote he uses at the end of that two-minute excerpt, show that he was talking about the law as God’s rule for humanity. It would be difficult to read “the law of love” into his sermon and have it make sense.

***

As I preached through the Sermon on the Mount during 2015, one thing that I tried to drill home with my congregation is something we often miss about the law. Namely, the law God has given isn’t a set of rules or guidelines. The law is the expressed design of creation by God, and it flows from the very nature of who God is. Meaning, the law as given to us doesn’t just tell us how to live, but it also describes and attests to the very nature of who God is. The example I used often was that we are commanded not to lie. We are given that command because lying is not only against the design of creation, but God himself cannot lie either (Num 23, Tit 1). For Furtick to suggest that God broke the law would be for God to violate his very nature, which is impossible if we believe in an immutable, eternal God. Saying God broke His own law is silliness on the level of saying that a blueberry made itself orange. God cannot break the law, because he IS the law and the law is Him. The law and the nature of God are inseparable. I don’t imagine you going back to share that in the article, but I thought it would be worth mentioning, in case there was any more talk of it.
—Jason Y, West Chicago, IL

Comments on Always Reforming: The Holy Challenge of Diversity

I wanted to say thank you for the articles that you posted. It has been encouraging to see a non-ethnic minority voicing the questions that it feels like we have been asking, in all honesty I have been growing increasingly frustrated, and even cynical with the Reformed community in regards to this issue, but your recent articles have been such an encouragement to me, so thank you.

I think a common objection to calls for diversity is that it distracts from the gospel, or that we are pursuing a worldly agenda instead of biblical ones. That our calls for diversity are not calls grounded in, and coming from our scriptural convictions, but instead there are real implications that we have somehow been “tainted” by the world in some sense. These comments and responses are frightening because it means those who respond in these ways do not see race as a biblical mandate, they do not see the issues of diversity as being a biblical, Christian thing, as something that God desires. Which I think flies in the face of Scripture, and even reformed tradition. I think of Calvin leading the incredibly diverse church of Geneva. He did not try to lead a french church, or a Swiss church, but he encouraged the diversity within the church of Geneva. I think of Kuyper who argues for the pluriformity of churches, arguing that it is a reflection of the glory of God’s diversity, that we see in creation. I think of Bavinck, who argues for the pluriformity of churches as being rooted and grounded in the Triune union of God himself.
—Hyung B, Queens NY

***

I found your article very interesting. Here in Brazil where my husband and I are missionaries we have also seen an incredible (re)surgence of the Reformed faith. However, the ethnic diversity doesn’t mean anything to us. It’s so diverse, especially because we are not so racially split. It’s much more of a resurgence among university grads and those who have t least finished some type of higher education and the middle class who are tired of shallow theology. The best Christian books we have here are pretty much all by Reformers. And the surgence (in our case) is quite large( where we do have conferences of more than 1000, even 2000). Of course half of he speakers are either American, Canadian or Brits.
—Aida H, Niterói, RJ

Chilis Guacamole John Piper
April 08, 2016

A few years ago I was at a conference to lead a breakout session and perhaps to do some writing about the event. There were a couple of keynote speakers there, John Piper among them, and they were carrying a much heavier load. If I remember correctly, the first day ended with an informal Q&A session held in the lobby rather than the main auditorium. Hundreds of us crowded into that lobby to eat dessert and to hear answers to interesting questions.

As the evening was coasting toward its conclusion, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Would you like to get some guacamole with John Piper after we’re done here?” Now, if there is any rule governing this Reformed resurgence, it’s that when John Piper asks you out for guacamole, you cannot refuse. Sure enough, a few minutes later I found myself at a nearby Chili’s with Piper and a plate of guac.

I was happy to oblige, of course, but naturally, found myself wondering why I was there. The explanation was not long in coming: Piper had recently encountered Twitter and had seen some promise in it. He was convinced that it could be an important medium for ministry. He had even begun a secret account and had been using it anonymously, teaching himself how to make the most of the 140-character word limit. He had a number of questions for me, all of them related to the strengths and the weaknesses of what at that time was a new medium. I do not remember all that we discussed, but I do remember coming away impressed with his desire to weigh the risks against the benefits and to ensure he would avoid the one while enjoying the other. He meant to make Twitter a first foray into the world of social media with the hope that it would become an important extension of his ministry.

Sure enough, he soon opened a public account and tweeted his first tweet just about 7 years ago. Today nearly 850,000 people follow him. He largely shares Scripture, sometimes with a miniature reflection attached, but also includes a few quotes and links to helpful resources. By my assessment he does Twitter well. He does it as a form of ministry.

I hadn’t thought about this incident in many years, but it came to mind on Sunday. I was at a nearby church teaching an adult Sunday school class about life in a digital world and was asked a question like this: “You’ve told us that any new technology brings with it both opportunities and risks. How can we make sure that we are properly assessing a new technology so we can avoid the risks?” And it was right then that I thought of Chili’s, guacamole, and . He understood that there would be ways to use this new technology well and ways to use it poorly. His concern was to use it well, knowing that using it poorly could have a detrimental impact on his ministry and, even worse, on the gospel. In order to use it well he first tried it privately and then consulted others about it (I was not the only one he spoke to). He moved slowly and deliberately and, in that way, serves as a good model.

Do you want to use new technologies well? Then move slowly enough to first understand them, try them in small ways before committing to them in big and public ways, and ask others to share their experiences. In these ways you are making the effort to understand both the obvious benefits and the far more subtle risks.

(An amusing little event happened the same week. I was in a room by myself, putting the finishing touches on that breakout session. Suddenly the door blew open and Alistair Begg burst through it. He pointed at me and shouted, “I will…not…tweet. Ever!” Then he walked back out. I have not spoken to him before or since. But you can now follow him at .)

Begg Twitter

Did God Break the Law for Love
April 07, 2016

It happened again. A popular preacher said something in a sermon, it made its way to social media, and lots of people got upset. This happens quite often, doesn’t it? I rarely pay attention to these things and comment on them infrequently. However, I am making an exception for the latest one because I suspect quite a few people who saw it on their Facebook timeline are saying, “Hang on! What’s so wrong with what he said?” It’s one of those things that is just close enough to the truth to be confusing. So let’s turn it into an opportunity and consider how and why what he said is problematic.

Let me give some context: Last summer Steven Furtick preached a sermon at Elevation Church that was based on 1 John 4:7-12 and titled “It Works Both Ways.” Though the sermon was 40 minutes long and preached all the way back in July, he recently shared a 2-minute excerpt on Facebook. It is that excerpt that has been passed around and widely discussed. In it he makes this claim: “God broke the law for love.” God gave us a law, then, as a great display of his love, broke that law.

Furtick illustrates by using the example of a child who has suffered a terrible injury after falling from the monkey bars. As a parent, you scoop up your child, run to the car, and race for the hospital. All the way to the hospital you pass by signs declaring a speed limit, but out of love and concern for your child you ignore them, breaking the law for the sake of love. The implication is that you are justly breaking the law for the sake of love. Furtick then turns the illustration from an earthly parent to a heavenly Father:

What will really turn your heart to God is not when you hear his laws—which were given for our good, by the way, but they were powerless because there wasn’t enough leverage in our actions to keep the law. So what God did when he sent his Son—and this is why we get excited in church, and this is why tears fill our eyes when we think about Jesus, and this is why the gospel is still good news in the world today—cause God broke the law for love. I said to every sinner, God broke the law for love. I mean that he scooped you up in his arms, I mean that he’s carrying you in his grace, I mean that what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature God did by sending his Son in the likeness of a sinful man.

Did God break the law for love? It might seem like he did or like he had to. After all, he has made sinners right before a holy God. Ah yes, but not by breaking the law. The mystery of the cross is how God could satisfy the demands of the law while offering mercy to those condemned by that very law. The miracle of the cross is that God actually does this—he justifies sinners while keeping every demand of the law.

When Furtick says that God breaks the law, he seems to indicate that the way God releases people from the law’s demands is by breaking it and he uses the parent-child illustration to prove this. But while the illustration is effective on an emotional level, on a scriptural level it muddies rather than clarifies. Where the child has had an innocent accident, we have willfully committed cosmic treason against our divine king; where the child is physically injured, we are spiritually dead. Of even greater importance, God’s law is not a speed limit, a list of rules drawn up to govern human behavior. Rather, the law is God’s revelation or manifestation of his own character. For God to break the law he would have to act opposite not only to a rule but to his own character. He would have to insist that he is one way but that he acts in another way. God cannot break the law without entering into an impossible and absurd self-contradiction. The illustration actually contradicts the truth.

There is another problem here. Furtick means to show that God demonstrates the magnitude of his love by his willingness to break his own good law, as if God says “I love you so much that I will break my own law to save you.” But God can and does give a much greater demonstration of his love—he keeps the law! At the cross God demonstrates his love to us “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God displays the magnitude of his love not by breaking the law but by satisfying the law. He satisfies it in the most painful way possible, by loading upon his very own Son the complete weight of our sin and then pouring out his wrath on him. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). This is what he does for our sake. Why? Because this is what his law demands. His law, his righteous and holy character, demands that justice be satisfied. “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:3–4). The greatest possible expression of God’s love is not breaking the law but keeping it. The cross is definitive proof that God is not a law-breaker but a law-keeper.

Here is one final problem: If God breaks the law, the law is still in effect because there has been no justice, and that is the worst possible news. If the law is still in effect, I am condemned by it and God is downright evil for promising a false hope. If I have committed murder and a judge tells me I can go free anyway, I remain guilty. His decision to break or circumvent the law has no bearing on my guilt or innocence. The same must be true of God. In Romans 3:30–31 Paul explains that God does not break the law (even for love) and does so with the language of “uphold” and “overthrow:” God “will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” So, when God justifies the wicked, he does not overthrow the law or find a way around it. To the contrary, through the perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection of Christ, God upholds the law. Every sin is paid. Justice is served. The law is upheld. The Judge is satisfied. Those who were guilty are rightly, truly, fairly, eternally declared innocent when they put their faith in Christ.

Could God break the law? No, he could not and would not contradict himself. Does God need to break the law in order to save us? No, thank God, he does not need to show mercy only at the expense of justice. Does God break the law? No, he does something far, far better. He upholds it while Christ fulfills it. In all of earth and heaven there is no greater demonstration of love than God keeping his law.

I am considering this article complete, but am adding a short appendix to it.

The Whole Christ

Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ is relevant and helpful to these matters of love, law, and gospel. He makes the important point that antinomianism (opposing and rejecting God’s law as Furtick does here) is—oddly, paradoxically, yet truly—an expression of legalism (earning your righteousness through God’s law apart from Christ). He says they are “nonidentical twins that emerge from the same womb.” He explains that “Antinomianism and legalism are not so much antithetical to each other as they are both antithetical to grace. This is why Scripture never prescribes one as the antidote for the other. Rather grace, God’s grace in Christ in our union with Christ, is the antidote to both.” Furtick wants to show that love or gospel is much greater than law, but he goes wrong when he pits them against one another.

What’s wrong with these approaches of legalism and antinomianism? They both “[separate] the law of God from the person of God.” Each is “a distorted view of God as the giver of his law.” “Love is what law commands, and the commands are what love fulfills. … Love requires direction and principles of operation. Love is motivation, but it is not self-interpreting direction.” We need to be careful that we never put God’s love in opposition to God’s law. The law is “holy and righteous and good” and “spiritual” (Romans 7:12, 14). Sin is the problem (Romans 7:13), not the law. Perhaps you can consider this another good reason to add The Whole Christ to your reading list.