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New Attitude 2007

May 29, 2007

After fighting our way downstairs this morning (the Galt House hotel always has elevator problems, and they are exacerbated on the last day of a conference when everyone is trying to leave at the same time-all the elevators coming down were full, so we eventually caught one going up and then rode it back down) we had a nice breakfast with Collin Hansen, who is a writer for Christianity Today and the guy who wrote the “Young, Restless, Reformed” article that was so widely read last year. It was great to meet him and his wife and to spend a bit of time with them. And then we headed over to the conference center once more.

This is the last session of the last conference I’ll be attending for a long time. The spring conference season is just about over and most of the major ones have already happened. C.J. Mahaney was given the privilege of delivering the closing message here at New Attitude. It fell to him to help the people who attended this conference to prepare to take all of the theology they’ve learned back to real life. He helped them prepare to think about how they will live what they’ve learned. This was less of a sermon and more of what Josh Harris termed sitting down with C.J. for a cup of coffee and just listening to him.

Because of the intensely personal nature of this message it did not lend itself well to a quick summary. He framed it around the priority of application and the practice of application, first showing the importance of application (while still affirming the beauty and value of correct doctrine) and then teaching three aspects of the practice of application, saying effective application is specific, requires patience with others and must be done in the shadow of the cross. If you know of C.J.’s ministry you’ll know that he is most gifted when it comes to making doctrine practical so this message was, as we’d expect, particularly convicting and useful.

We were told today that all of the conference audio will be available by Monday through the New Attitude site. I really do feel that anyone can benefit from these messages, but certainly younger Christians in particular will benefit from them. In just a few hours Aileen and I will head back home. By tomorrow I should be back to real life and back to our regularly scheduled programming at this site.

May 28, 2007

As has become customary, the good folks at Desiring God have released Piper’s message within a couple of hours of it being delivered. You can download it from their site by clicking right here. This message is titled “Discern What Pleases God—Himself.” It is really a kind of entry level, introductory overview of John Piper’s theology, the insights from Scripture that have formed the foundation for his entire ministry. So if you’re curious about why Piper’s ministry has had such wide reach or you want to get a refresher as to what he teaches, this is a great place to start. This is the doctrine that stands under all the books he has written and all the messages he has delivered.

For those interested in knowing what we’ve been singing at this conference, one of the Harris brothers (and there are a bunch of them, aren’t there?) has collected a complete list of the songs from each of the worship sessions. You can see it here. He talks also about some of the people leading worship and some of the interesting interludes.

This message was particularly interesting as Piper kind of hinted that it may be just a bit of a perhaps of the route he will take in his book interacting with errant teaching on justification. At the very least, it shows that he is putting serious time and consideration into how the teaching on justification is consistent from the gospels to the epistles. His talk, which I found just a bit difficult to summarize, went a little something like this:

In the talk he delivered earlier in the day, Piper said that God’s saving love is His commitment to do everything that must be done, no matter the cost, to make Himself the everlasting and all-satisfying treasure of sinners. The link with this message is that when we see what had to be done so that God could make Himself the treasure of fallen sinners, this determines what kind of obedience pleases or displeases God. If you see what He did at Calvary, you will know two kinds of obedience that God cannot abide and two kinds of corresponding obedience that He loves and delights in. What God did through Christ to make Christians treasures Him governs the kind of obedience that pleases and displeases Him.

Here are the two kinds of obedience God hates.

The first kind of obedience that God abominates because of the work He did in Christ to make Himself the treasure of sinners is obedience offered to Him as grounds of our justification. If you take your obedience to the Word of God and commend it to God as the basis of why He should count you as righteous He hates that obedience because it usurps the place of His Son’s obedience. If you come up with obedience that nullifies the death of His Son He will not accept it.

The second kind of obedience God hates is obedience that conceives of itself as payback for God’s grace. The reason He cannot abide this obedience is because what Christ did in order to make God our everlasting treasure was to provide a rock solid ground and guarantee of all future grace including the grace that includes our obedience.

This all needs explaining from the Bible and this is where he went next.

Here is the biblical basis and foundation for why Piper thinks God abominates obedience offered as the grounds of our justification. He offered the following verses and gave a brief explanation for each: Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16, Galatians 2:21. Offering God our obedience as the basis for our justification nullifies grace because it takes the place of Christ in our salvation. It cancels grace and nullifies mercy because Christ is offered in His life and in His death as the obedience and the sacrifice which I must have. This comes from four passages: Romans 5:18-19, Romans 10:3, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Philippians 3:8. In Christ we have righteousness from God.

Can this be found in the teachings of Jesus? Piper has spent a lot of time studying the flow of thought in Luke 17 and 18. Consider three passages: Luke 17:7-10 (a servant comes in from the field, the master demands to be served and then Jesus says, “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also when you have done all that you were commanded say “We are unworthy servants.”). It doesn’t matter how many commandments you keep because when the end comes, they count for nothing. If you could keep everything you were commanded, it still wouldn’t count. Luke 18:9-14 (He told this parable to people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt. The parable was of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the temple to pray.). The Pharisee believes that his freedom from adultery and his other obedience is a gift of God. He conceives of this obedience as being God-given. The tax collector, on the other hand, was the one who was justified. The one who offered God even the God-wrought obedience did not receive justification. We learn that no obedience that we perform in our strength or God’s strength will be offered to God as the ground for our justification. We have mercy as the grounds, but still not Jesus. The flow of thought continues in this chapter. The next story is that of the Rich Young Ruler (beginning in Luke 18:18). Despite keep all the commandments, the Ruler lacked one thing (and yet Jesus told Him three things to do). The man was clinging tightly to his wealth and Jesus demanded that He be the one held in that way. Luke uses all of this to tell us that we have no claim on God. When you’ve done everything, even by the power of God, you have no claim on God. One thing is needful: follow Him. Jesus tells us that obedience offered to God as grounds for our being counted righteous will not be accepted.

The positive counterpart to this one is delicate. The New Testament calls faith in the gospel message obedience (see, for example, 1 Peter 4:17). The gospel is that Christ died for our sins and provided a perfect sacrifice for our sins and a perfect obedience for our righteousness. You need only cast yourself on Him rather than on what you’ve done. When you do this you’re obeying the gospel and this is renunciation of obedience in anything you’ve done out of obedience. When you see the phrase “obedience to the gospel” don’t begin to mix in your works. Know that what you’re obeying is the demand that you forsake your own works and rely on the obedience of another. Obedience to the gospel is faith. Faith is in a category of its own and there is nothing else that faith is like. It is absolutely unique and must be regarded as such. Faith in Christ for justification is a receiving of an alien obedience, not an offering of my own. It is a turning away from my obedience and my sufficiency and saying I am undone. I will embrace and receive the sacrifice and obedience of another. Faith is a totally receiving act and not a pushing out act. It is a receiving of Christ and all He is for us.

The second kind of obedience that displeases God is conceiving of your life as a Christian as payback for grace. Why is God displeased by that effort to pay Him back? Because what God did in Christ in love to make Himself the treasure of sinners was not only to provide a ground for their perfection but to provide a ground and guarantee of all future grace bought, secured, by that redemption, by that obedience and that sacrifice. That means that as you walk into the future if you try to think that you must do certain things because they show Him how much you appreciate what He did and can repay some of what He did for me…if that mindset is in your brain, that obedience will be displeasing to the Lord because it will nullify the grace bought for you at Calvary.

There are several texts to prove this, among them 1 Corinthians 15:10. If you try to think of your walk as payback, you nullify what He bought for you. He has gifts for you, triumphs over temptation. You are a debtor to grace and this debt increases daily. The obedience that pleases God is the obedience that banks on the ever-fresh arrival of future grace. Past grace at the cross is magnificent, unparalleled and foundational. It bought a reservoir of grace flowing on to me from the future as I walk into my days. What God wants from me is not payback but increasing debt. He wants me to say “God, what do I have that I did not receive?” Here is another text: Psalm 116:12. “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?” Is this payback time? The very next verse answers. “I will lift up the cup of salvation call upon the name of the Lord.” For what? For more grace! How do you pay back God? Ask for more! We have a kind of God who is glorified not when we take the buckets of our gratitude up the mountain and pour them into His all-sufficient spring. Rather, this spring is magnified when we take our empty buckets, take it down the mountain, and pour it on people. He doesn’t need any of our payback. He is glorified when we go every day deeper into debt. From 2 Corinthians 9:8 we see that God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times you may abound in every good work. So where do good works that come from? God is able to make all grace abound to you so that you may abound in every good work. When you think that you want to please God by your obedience, you should devote your mind and your heart to seeing Christ for who He is and savoring Him for how much He’s worth. The real battle for obedience that pleases God is receiving grace, being satisfied with Christ. When this happens you are weaned from all other treasures and all other prizes.

Piper ended with a brief reflection on 2 Corinthians 8 - “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” This passage provides a wonderful biblical example of true obedience that brings glory to God.

As with Piper’s other message, I suspect this one will be available shortly on the Desiring God web site. I assure you that I didn’t even begin to really capture it!

The conference will wrap up tomorrow with one more general session led by C.J. Mahaney. By 1 PM it will be over…

May 28, 2007

When I take the time to do some edits to these live-blogged articles I often notice how often it is that speakers change from “me” to “you” to “us.” When I run through these articles I see this all the time and am tempted to change it, but generally choose to leave things just as they are. So if you see me go from first person to second person to third person, chances are that is just the way the speaker spoke. And now you’ll start looking for it!

One other quick note: when I go to conferences I often challenge whoever accompanies me to guess how long it will take before we sing “In Christ Alone.” We usually guess by sessions (i.e. “I guess it will be in the third worship session” or “I guess it will be in the fifth worship session.”). It took us until the fifth worship session at this conference, but that has now given this song the distinction of being the only one that has been sung at each of the six conferences I’ve attended this year. It is possible that “Amazing Grace” has also been featured at all of them, but I don’t think it has been.

This afternoon we had the privilege of hearing John Piper preach. And best of all, he preached the message that has been at the very foundation of everything he has said and written since his ministry began: that the deepest pleasures for God are pleasures in God. It went something like this:

He began with a seven question discernment test. The first five answers were universal and the final two personal.

Who is the most God-centered person in the universe? God.

Who is uppermost in God’s affections? God.

Is God an idolator? No.

What is God’s chief jealousy? To be known and admired and trusted and obeyed above all others.

What is the chief end of God? To glorify God and enjoy Himself forever.

Do you feel most loved by God because He makes much of you or because He frees you to make much of Him forever?

Are you God-centered because God is supremely valuable to you or are you God-centered because you believe you are supremely valuable to Him?

People bristle at what Piper is about to say—about this message he has been preaching for so many years. He has found that there is a way of looking at the truth that stirs up people’s sediment of pride. The root of pride is not severed without seeing that God keeps the first commandment to love God above all else. The root of pride is not seen until we know that God does everything to the glory of God. It is not until we know that God sees Christ as supremely valuable and until we really like it that God has no other gods before Him and that He alone is God in His own eyes.

He will argue from the Bible that God is supremely valuable to God and that there is no more God-centered person in the world. Jonathan Edwards, as you probably know, was the one who opened his eyes to this. If God does an illumining work so you see this, you’ll never read the Bible in the same way and you’ll see this everywhere in the Bible.

First Piper walked us through the Bible, taking the high points of redemptive history to see what God says about what He does. The answer is always the same: that He does it for His glory. He did this under six headings:

Predestination - Ephesians 1:5-6 – “God predestined us…unto the praise of the glory of His grace.” As clear as day it says that God’s design in your predestination is His glory.

Creation – Isaiah 43:6-7 – “Everyone whom I created for my glory.” Everything is made to make God look good and for the display of His glory. We are to magnify Him like a telescope (which makes huge things look more like they really are), not a microscope (which makes small things look big).

Incarnation – Romans 15:8-9 – “Christ became a servant…to glorify God for His mercy.” You get the mercy and He gets the glory. The reason for His mercy is to bring glory to Himself. The ultimate integrating motif of the Bible is the glory of God (and not, as so many believe, the love of God).

Propitiation – Romans 3:25-26 – Paul says that if God is to pass over sins the Son of God has to die in order to demonstrate His righteousness. The problem is in verse 23: “all have sin and fallen short of the glory of God.” And now we’re back to glory again. Sin is an attitude or action that belittles the glory of God, making a choice that can only be explained that we value something else more than the glory of God. Sin is something you do when you don’t treasure God’s glory as you should. You trample His glory in your simple preference for something else. God could not just pass this over or He would be unrighteous. There are only two ways that God can vindicate the worth of His glory: by sending you to hell or by accepting Christ’s death on your behalf. So there, right in the center of the gospel message, is God’s God-centeredness.

Sanctification – Philippians 1:9-11 – This is a prayer in which Paul asks God to do something in accord with His own designs. He prays that people’s love may abound so that they may be filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ to the praise and the glory of God. Paul asks that God would pursue His own glory. He asks that we may be sanctified unto the praise and glory of His name.

Consummation – 2 Thessalonians 1:9 – Jesus is returning to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at among all who have believed. He is coming to be glorified and to be magnified. That is why He is coming, ultimately. There are other things He will do, but this is the ultimate.

We could spend another hour doing this but these suffice to show that God does everything for the ultimate reason of bringing glory to Himself. In everything He does He is exalting Himself.

There are some biblical reasons that a person might squirm at this. The most obvious is that this doesn’t sound loving, since, after all, “love does not seek its own.” But we can’t just write off all of these texts. There are other understandings of “love does not seek its own.” It is not wrong for God to seek His own glory in saving sinners. Many people believe God would be morally defective to demand worship. So what is the answer to God’s God-centeredness being morally defective? The answer is that we define love in the wrong way. We define love, morality, to mean being made much of. “You make much of me and I will like the way you love me.” But this is not the Bible’s definition.

Here is what love means in the Bible: love labors, plans, suffers to enthrall the beloved with what is totally and eternally satisfying. It is a heart commitment to plan and labor and suffer and if necessary to die to enthrall the beloved with that which will totally and eternally satisfy their soul. That’s love! Here’s the catch: God is the one being in the universe who, to do that, must be self-exalting. If God plays a mock humility He would be hateful and cruel. He would withdraw from us and bury the one thing that will satisfy our souls totally and forever, namely, Himself! This is not a morally defective God. This is not an unloving God. God is the one being for whom the highest virtue is self-exaltation is the most loving act because in exalting Himself he offers to me the one thing that will satisfy my soul forever and ever and ever.

Piper shared the mission statement for his church (which also happens to be his personal mission statement): “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” Some people have asked, “Where is love for people in there?” This mission statement is the definition of love for people. The church exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God means that it exists to love. What else would people want to do other than to enthrall people with God’s supremacy in everything forever in Christ? What more can be added except practical outworkings of how one might display that passion. The essence of God’s love is to do whatever He has to do to make Himself our joy and satisfaction.

So here was his closing exhortation: Do not, in your quest to be a discerning generation, begrudge God’s God-centeredness. If life has taught Piper anything it’s that this truth is like true north in his life’s compass. He does not have answers to many, many questions but it is amazing how to have one good, clear, solid, true north in your compass sheds light on anything. Does this behavior conform to this reality of God’s pervasive and eternal God-centeredness? Does it conform to the meaning of the love of God of spending Himself at the cost of His Son’s life to save me for His glory?

I’ll be back in a few hours when Piper takes to the pulpit again.

May 28, 2007

I had assumed, when I came to this conference, that we would sing a lot more songs than at most other conferences. To my surprise this has not really been the case (or it hasn’t seemed to be. I haven’t actually been counting). Rather, we’ve sung about the same number of songs as at most events. Yet the worship times are definitely longer. I think it’s just that the Sovereign Grace folk take a little longer to sing each song than perhaps I’m accustomed to!

My day began early with a breakfast with Justin Taylor. He’s one of these guys I like to catch up with whenever we’re in town and, while he’s always kind to deign to spend a bit of time with me (even though he’s always busy meeting with all the important people). And I’m always grateful. Aileen and I then wandered town a little bit to find some little gifts to take back to our two oldest children who stayed home. And then this morning’s session began. Eric Simmons, the brains behind this whole conference, began to speak on the subject of pleasing God in the gray matters.

He spoke of Gray matters such as: Is it OK just to fast-forward the sex scene and watch the rest of the movie? Should I smoke a cigar with my unbelieving father? How tight is too tight? Can a Christian play poker? Can I have a beer with dinner?

Eric recently addressed these same questions in a two-part article posted on the Boundless site. You can find the first article here and the second here. It will doubtlessly prove more valuable to read these article than this summary of them (and the message they were based on).

The talk had two parts, the first dealing with biblical assumptions for thinking about this topic and then transitioning into a process to decide and discern what is pleasing to the Lord in gray matters.

The assumptions were found in the first chapter of Colossians. First, being transferred into Christ’s kingdom has redefined your identity. You are now part of a new kingdom under a new king. In any discussion related to gray matters we need to stand at the foot of the cross and realize that our behavior does not ever earn favor from God. Rather, He gained this favor through His Son. There is no place for pride or arrogance when it comes to these issues for the cross levels the playing field. Entering into this kingdom radically alters our identity. Second, there is no such thing as gray. We are His possession and this means that our life’s direction is the pleasure of God.

He then turned to the process of discernment in gray matters and this involved three steps.

Think Biblically - The more you get to know someone, the more you get to know what they like and dislike. We need to ask how God has revealed to us what He likes and dislikes, what is wise and what is foolish. It’s not through trial and error or through conversation over time, but in His Word. If we want to learn what pleases God in every way, we must study the Bible and meditate upon it. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

He focused in on two words in Hebrews 5:14 - constant practice. If you want to be able to discern gray matters, you must give yourself to constant practice to applying the Word to every situation in life. We cannot be biblically ignorant and discerning at the same time. We cannot ignore God’s Word and then expect to make wise decisions. If you want to be discerning in gray matters you’ll need constant practice in biblical thinking.

Distrust Your Heart - Every gray matter begins with a desire. You have a desire to do something and it is typically a type of pleasure (viewing, tasting, etc). God created pleasure and pleasure is meant to bring Him glory. He wants us to enjoy His world which He has created to be pleasurable. But our desire for pleasure can easily turn to a sinful desire to feed the flesh. My heart typically wants to define the pleasure without examining my motives. We need to put the general issues aside and look at motive. We need to ask ourselves the “why” questions because the key to gray matters is asking about motives. Your motive is critical to discernment. You often require the help of others to see motives. If you’re submitted to God and are in a local church, you have these types of people who can test your wisdom and your discernment. Eric’s encouragement was for young people to find an older person, someone more advanced in the Christian life than they are, to ask about these gray matters.

Imitate Your Father - Who you choose to imitate typically defines what is good and what is evil. So we need to ask, who are we trying to be like? If we’re honest, all of us are really trying to be like someone or something. This recognition is critical to thinking about gray matters because typically, when we want to be like someone, this person can set standards of good and evil, right and wrong. They have a standard to follow if you want to remain and be accepted. In the process of discerning any gray matter you must ask who you’re imitating in this matter. The Bible gives us a standard in Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Our standard is nothing less than God himself. We are called to imitate him. We are to be like God. He is our standard. We are to imitate Him in His righteousness and holiness. Imitating Him brings Him so much pleasure and honor and praise as you orient your life around His definition of pleasure. Who you imitate in gray matters is a key to discernment. Is it God the Father? Has defined what is good and what is evil, what is wise and what is foolish? Or has someone stood in that place and now you’re trying to imitate someone or something else?

May 27, 2007

Whenver I blog these conferences, people want to know what books have been recommended. Before each session we’ve had a couple of books recommended to us. Here is the list thus far:

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer
Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman
Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart by John Ensor
The Message of the Old Testament by Mark Dever
The Message of the New Testament by Mark Dever
Holiness by J.C. Ryle

Tonight finds C.J. Mahaney delivering the first of two messages he’ll bring this weekend. This is one of the first messages by C.J. that Josh ever heard and he asked him to preach it this weekend because it is relevant to the topic of discernment. It is titled “The Idol Factory” (though Josh referred to it as “Idols of the Heart”).

How interesting and ironic that American Idol, this massively popular show, makes an explicit reference to idolatry in its title. Yet in our culture the practice of idolatry seems remote, antiquated and irrelevant. Most people think idolatry is something from the past. Idolatry, though, endures. Modern day idolatry is prevalent and powerful. It exists in many subtle and sophisticated forms. For most of us the word idolatry brings us thoughts only of ancient cultures. We have distanced ourselves from the whole idea of idolatry and this is true even of the evangelical church. Understanding and applying this topic has the potential to make a dramatic difference in your understanding of God, your growth in godliness, your involvement in the local church and in your heart. In this message we draw near to this topic rather than distance ourselves from it. We’ll discover that idolatry is the most frequently discussed and most seriously condemned sin in Scripture.

It doesn’t get any clearer than Exodus 20 where God commands, “You shall have no other Gods before me.” This appears as clearly in the New Testament, for in Romans 1:18 and 21:25 we are told that before conversion idolatry was our primary sin. This is the without doubt the worst trade in history-trading truth for a lie. This trade has eternal consequences and prior to conversion each and every one of us has made this trade and approved of it. Prior to conversion we were all worshiping someone or something else other than God. We loved and worshiped and served and obeyed the creature rather than the Creator. But by the grace of God it is a different story when we encounter idolatry in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 for there the spell of idolatry has been broken. All who have been genuinely converted have seen this happen.

But this is not where the experience of idolatry in our lives concludes. The presence of sin remains. Because of remaining sin a propensity for idolatry remains as well. But the daily temptation and tendency to idolatry remains. Scripture addresses this tendency and provides numerous ways to fight it. 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 tells us that God will not let us be tempted beyond we can bear but tells us to flee idolatry. In Colossians 3:5 we are told to put aside covetousness which is idolatry. We will not conquer this sin fully and finally before death. Conversion contributes to the weakening of this temptation but will not destroy it.

It is unacceptable that this is a foreign topic for the church. Yet, sadly, as one looks out at the evangelical landscape, there is no real difference between the church and the world when it comes to this issue. For many of us the most discussed sin in the Bible is the least considered in our lives. We’re little better at recognizing idols than those who have not been converted. We need theologically-informed discernment so we can detect and destroy the idols of the heart.

Understanding idolatry will give you new eyes so you might discern and detect and destroy the idols that are active and at work in your soul. Understanding idolatry will give you new eyes to discern and appreciate the Savior’s sacrifice on the cross for our idolatry. May there be the gift of new eyes in the form of discerning eyes as the result of this message!

This message has three points: defining idolatry, discerning idolatry and The effect of destroying idolatry.

Defining Idolatry. An idol is a substitute for God that one loves and worships and serves rather than the one true God. It is anyone or anything you love or serve in place of God. An idol is a false God. As a Christian it is possible to sincerely profess a love for the true and living God while functionally serving a false God. Here C.J. quoted Richard Keyes who wrote, “An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as God. All sorts of things are potential idols, depending only on our attitudes and actions towards them…idolatry may not involve explicit denials of God’s existence or character. It may well come in the form of an over-attachment to something that is, in itself, perfectly good…An idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero - anything that can substitute for God.”

Many idols are obvious and easy to identify. Yet many idols may come in the form of an over-attachment to something that is, on its own, good. John Calvin wrote “The evil in our desires usually does not lie in what we want but that we want it too much.” Often what we want are gifts from God. The evil is in wanting this too much. The desire for a gift from God becomes a sinful craving, a ruling craving. There is an endless list of things that can become idolatrous: leisure, health, marriage, vocation, food, and so on. They are all gifts from God but are all also potential objects of idolatry not in and of themselves but when idolatry emerges internally when we want this gift as a substitute for God. As we consider this list we need to ask, is there some gift of God we really want too much? It is probably what you think of when we hear or read this very point.

Discerning Idolatry. The source of idolatry is sin that remains within. “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14.) Calvin writes, “The human heart is a factory of idols…every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” Our hearts will regularly create idols of the heart.

There are four ways God has given by which we can identify idolatry:

Through Holy Scripture (see Hebrews 4:12 - “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…”). The Bible has a unique ability to penetrate and reveal our hearts.

The person and the work of the Holy Spirit. The opening of our eyes is an act of the Spirit and we must appeal to Him (Psalm 139:23-24). We are not to engage in morbid introspection but are to ask God to search and try us. When we talk about how to identify idolatry we are dependant on the Spirit as we contemplate Scripture in the shadow of the cross, secure in our justification.

The church. We need the church to help us identify idols. We need the preaching of the Word and we need brothers and sisters in Christ. In the local church we are to receive the caring and discerning eyes of others on our souls because sin blinds and deceives. Sin always blinds and deceives the self before others. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” We need to approach our friends and invite them to help us examine our hearts since we are so obvious oblivious to what is obvious to them. We need to initiate and invite and persist because we need the caring and discerning eyes of others on our souls.

Circumstances. (Here C.J. introduced two tests: the test of adversity and the test of prosperity) The test of adversity asks “what is your response if you do not obtain a desire of your heart?” What is our response if it is taken away? At this moment we find if we are worshiping someone or something other than God. What could begin as a good and godly desire may turn into a sinful craving. What is your response when things to do not go as you had hoped? Idols never deliver. They always disappoint. Discernment protects us from the consequences of sin. Whenever you experience the test of adversity God is testing your heart and there is a shift from created things to the Creator. This is what God does through this test.

Sadly, time did not permit a discussion of the test of prosperity, though C.J. pointed out that heroes of the faith more commonly fail the test of prosperity more than the test of adversity. He said also that it can be particularly difficult to cope with the test of adversity when another person or a friend is going through the gift of prosperity, and especially if this happens around the same gift (such as when one person is struggling with finances and another is enjoying a time of outpouring).

At this point the time had long since lapsed and he was able to give little more than “A Discerning Idols Starter Kit.” He pointed us to 1 John 5:21 which says “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” He then told us that David Powlison has taught him all he knows about idols and he stands on this man’s shoulders. He pointed us to a chapter in one of Powlison’s books that will be distributed here and which will be posted on the New Attitude web site.

Very quickly he gave two quick pointers for the fruit of identifying idolatry. The first is growth in godliness. If you feel you are unsuccessfully battling against sin, it may be that you are not addressing the root issues which may be idolatry issues. The second is growing in gratefulness to God. Idolatry reminds us of our need for forgiveness for sin and the Savior’s sacrifice on the cross for our sin. As you study this topic you will find yourself affected and profoundly grateful as you find how much you’ve been forgiven by God. “But he who is forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). Is your love for God little or much? If you study idolatry you’ll become freshly aware of how much you’ve been forgiven. If you are lacking passion and gratefulness perhaps you don’t realize how much you’ve been forgiven. Those who know they’ve been forgiven much, necessary love much. Prior to your conversion, you, on a daily basis, insulted God. You created one false God after another. You exchanged truth about God for a lie. You served and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator. You offended Him and were justly and righteously the objects of His wrath.

If you have turned from sin and trusted in the Savior you have been forgiven much. You are now free from future wrath. We must love Him much because we’ve been forgiven much.

After the band led in a song, Josh led a time of repentance in which he encouraged people to search their hearts to identify the idols that they have allowed in their hearts. He asked that God would allow us all to see the wickedness of idolatry and to turn from it. And then the evening was over.

May 27, 2007

People often ask me if some speakers are easier to “blog” then others. The answer is a clear yes. There are some speakers who speak in such a way that they are really quite easy to capture and to summarize. There are others that are very difficult. The primary difference, I think, is between those who provide very logical, clear, alliterated and structured outlines versus those who may not. This would include the likes of Steve Lawson, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever. Dr. Mohler is one of those guys who is on the “harder to liveblog” list. I often wrestle with writing a cogent summary of his talks. This one proved no exception! Yet, like most of Mohler’s talks, I learned a lot from it. There are few people I’d rather listen to than Dr. Mohler.

Mohler’s topic for today is Discerning the culture.

He began by saying something I fully believe: if there is any one thing lacking in the church today it must be discernment. That’s the only explanation for how things are as they are. How else could the church be so seduced and how else could Christians be indistinguishable? Discernment is one of those things you need to live, both in the spiritual realm and outside of it.

A lot of people think discernment is nothing more than a matter of taste and, in fact, everything is just a matter of taste. Saying that one thing is truth and another isn’t is just a matter of saying that you like one thing or not another. Discernment, though, is knowing what is a taste issue and what is a truth issue. Discernment, then, must be a matter of deadly seriousness and it is absolutely synchronous with maturity.

How do we discern the culture? This is a big issue because we can’t get away from it. Culture is (And here he defined culture. Though I’ve heard Mohler define it in three different conferences I still can’t quite catch it). Language is one of the very first signs of culture. You put two people together and they will start communicating in overt and covert ways. Discernment is necessary to negotiate this culture that is all around us. We are always communicating, we are always embedded in culture.

He spoke of Aristotle’s conundrum of the fish. If you ask a fish what it is to be wet, he can’t give an honest answer because he doesn’t know anything else. Most human beings are just like this: they are swimming in the culture and don’t even know it’s there.

Mohler provided five wrong ways of understanding the culture:

To adopt the motto “let’s get completely wet.” Let’s just join into the culture and assume that it’s all neutral. Yet culture is never neutral because every structure of the society has an agenda. The church can’t possibly say “let’s just dive in.” We can’t assume that the culture is a safe institution.

To say “we’ll stay completely dry.” We’ll remove ourselves from the culture and stay totally dry. But this is impossible. You cannot separate yourself from the culture. How will you talk? What will you eat? What will you wear? The reality is that we’re deeply enmeshed in a system and network of culture. The danger is that we’re not even aware of this. It is dangerous to think we’re outside of the culture, so we’ll step outside and let culture go to hell while we wait it out.

To reduce cultural engagement to taking a dip. This is something Christians do thinking we can just drop into the culture as we wish and drying ourselves off. Culture, though, is a system and an entire web. You can’t touch one part without touching another part. You can’t enter it without touching the entire system.

To take a sip of the culture. This is where we think we can understand another culture by just sampling it quickly. “We’re going to do an immersion experience in another culture for a good 72 hours.” You can’t sip a culture. It is such a deep and complex reality that it takes serious study to figure out what it is.

Thinking we can treat culture by watching an aquarium. This is the National Geographic method and the arrogant American method. Looking at the aquarium doesn’t help because you need to be engaged in the culture, not just looking at it from the outside in. This is a great challenge for evangelism and for Christian missions.

Real life means that we’re embedded in culture and the most dangerous aspects of culture may be the ones we’re not even aware of. For Christians this is particularly dangerous because, once we have come to know Jesus as Lord, the last things we often see with the eyes of Christ are the things closest to us-the things we don’t even think about.

Matthew 22 is a place we find an amazing engagement between Jesus, the Pharisees and the Saducees. In the midst of this conflict Jesus gives us a centering set of commandments. He gives the Great Commandment showing that God comes first. The love of God is the great prioritizing issue. The second commandment is like it, that you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is an exercise in discernment: the two main issues are love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus puts them in the right order. We love our neighbor not just because of who he is, but because we love God and because God loves our neighbor. So here we have a prioritization, a framework for discernment.

Why do we seek discernment in culture? Because we love God and love our neighbor. And nothing tells us more about ourselves than what we love. This means that ever person on the planet is our neighbor and thus we need to be concerned about every culture. Everyone person we wish to take the gospel to is immersed in a culture.

One of the earliest Christians said that for us no place is home and all places are home. Our ultimate citizenship is in heaven. When we think about culture we need to do an exercise in systematic theology and we have to ask how we know anything. Fundamentally our epistemology is from the heavenly city, not the earthly one.

God established culture in variety and revels in this. God established different nations, different cultural units. In Revelation we are told that in heaven there will be men and women of every tongue, tribe and nation praising God in all of the languages of earth. God revels in the fact that he made people to be different. Systematic theology reminds us that God is even now ruling over all creatures and all cultures. And then we come to sin and affirm that every culture is fallen and every culture is marked with human pride. God has forbidden cultures from exercising the ultimate human pride that led to them being scattered at Babel. We see that every culture becomes a force of seduction.

Jesus was within a culture. He spoke a language, wore the clothes of that culture, and so on. But he was never bound by this system. We do not worship Jesus by trying to dress as He dressed or by trying to speak the language He spoke, but by following Him in obedience in this culture. The gospel is now address to all people in all cultures and people can now remain in just about any culture and remain agents of the gospel in that place. We are not saved from culture but are saved from sin. We are left in the world to be agents of the love of God and to take the message to this culture. We are to engage it in such a way that we know where to go and where not to go, how to speak and how not to speak. The church becomes the presence of the eternal culture, becoming in every culture a counterculture. It is a counterculture that has absolute heart symmetry with where Christians are found in any other culture. This is where, in a fallen world, you’ll receive just a hint of the culture that is coming when the Lord returns. The difference is not in what we where or how we drive, but in what we say and in how we live. We’re not Lone Rangers.

We need to look to eschatology and see that this culture will end. No one will look at what we did in heaven. There will be no artistic display of what we’ve done. Rather, we’ll give ourselves eternally to the worship of God and what He has done. God will bring all things to absolute congruence to His purposes.

And now we think about our culture, this 24 x 7, sexually deluded, sexually obsessed culture. Our presuppositions about everything are formed by this culture so we desperately need the church to ask how we’re supposed to raise our children, what we should understand about marriage and so on. We live in a time of tremendous trial and it is unprecedented for us to have access to culture 24 x 7.

Discernment means seeing that we are fish swimming in a dirty, dangerous sea. We are to engage the culture for God’s glory and to engage the culture for gospel witness. We must do things for the glory of God, whether we create art or buildings or anything else. Anywhere you go and anything you do, you won’t jump out of the culture. Wherever you are, you must be deeply involved in a church that tries to help you show the glory of God in every dimension of life. Even though culture is everywhere, Christians must have discernment to step back from it. By the Word of God we have the speaking God telling us what we need to know. We need detox from time-to-time. That’s what this conference is all about; it’s what the Lord’s Day is all about. We come in with all the toxins and poisons and in the midst of God’s people, confronted by His Word, the toxicity becomes clear and, as the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our lives, we are sanctified. Until Jesus comes we are to be discerning Christians in the midst of this culture.

May 27, 2007

The speaker of this, the first session of the second day of the New Attitude Conference, is Mark Dever, whom you may know as the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, the leader of IX Marks Ministries, and the author of several notable books. He said he was excited to be here to speak to what he considers to be a bunch of missionaries to the future. His topic essentially boiled down to this: How do we tell the difference between primary doctrine we need to contend for and secondary doctrines we can disagree with but still stay together? What is orthodox and what we can do to encourage each other to hold to it with humility. How can we differentiate between primary and secondary doctrine?

Mark’s message was framed around six questions we wanted us to consider: Do we follow commands to purify or to unite? What are some common fights Christians have? These first two questions set up the problems while the last four present elements of the answer. What are we together for? What must we agree upon? What may we disagree about? How can we disagree well?

Mark warned that the talk would be both dense and long (and it was, though more so the former than the latter).

Do we follow commands to purify or to unite? There are times when people no longer care for sound doctrine and when those who consider themselves believers care little for biblical doctrine. This is, sadly, one of those times. Throughout the Bible we are told to be on our guard for false doctrine. But how do we do this? We have tendencies to be too inclusive or too exclusive (ready to quickly declare someone or something wrong or unchristian, neglecting the wideness of God’s love). None of us approach this problem perfectly balanced. We end up pitting God’s Word against itself by putting one aspect of His character against another. What we should do is to grow in our knowledge of God’s Word and of our own hearts, so we’re more attuned to God’s truth and more appreciative of His love and gracious kindness. Truth and humility should not be enemies and, in fact, if we want to be truly humble we must also be filled with this truth.

Too often we have unity people and purity people, but not people who properly balance both. The unity people are willing to lay aside doctrine and group together around anything else whereas the purity people are fundamentalists, people who separate themselves from unbelievers and from believers with whom they do not agree. They have what Dever calls “a prophetic ministry of correction.” To today we ask how do we take the best of both of these, of the unity and the purity?

What are some common fights Christians have? There are so many to choose from: Sabbath-keeping, music styles, instrumentation, election and predestination, baptism, and on and on. This is the easy one to answer.

Now we move from the problem to the answer.

What are we together for? The cooperation we’re aiming at should determine how much agreement we need. The degree of cooperation in a relationship will depend on how close the relationship will be. There are, after all, different levels of agreement. So we need to ask, what is the purpose of agreeing with this person? For example, if you want to have an evangelistic Bible study, you need to agree on the gospel. If you want to begin a church with someone, you’ll need a greater level of agreement.

What must we agree upon? What are the basics, the essentials? This is a dangerous question and we have to proceed very carefully. Taken wrong, this can sound a bit like the teenager asking “How far can I go?” We must not ask this in the spirit of “What can I get away with?” Christian fellowship can only be had with those who share the Christian faith. In Acts 2 Luke writes that the people first shared the apostle’s teaching and then they enjoyed fellowship. Some errors are more serious than others. Some have to be corrected while others can go on for a lifetime. When we get to heaven, all of us will be corrected on some things simply because we’ve misunderstood some portion of Scripture. Some doctrines can go awry and a person can continue to serve as a faithful Christian.

There are three ways we learn what we must agree upon: through the Bible, through the church and through the conscience. We learn the truth fundamentally and supremely through the Bible—through God’s Word written. We are not to be earthly orphans, self-taught, self-regulating, self-centered. We must be in churches where the Word is taught well and taught faithfully. It is the duty of the local church to define what we must agree upon to be Christians and to be a member of that church. We also learn through conscience. This important part of God’s moral image has not been lost in the Fall, but it is now not always accurate. We all have an inherent sense of right and wrong but the conscience is inherent, not inerrant. We need our consciences to be trained and taught by God’s Word.

Here is a four-fold test to put on a doctrine to see how important it is. How clear is it in Scripture? How clear to others feel it is in Scripture? How near is it to the gospel? What would the effects be doctrinally and practically if we allow disagreement in this area?

One of the best words for a Christian is Evangelical. Jesus was all about news (the “evangel” is a word for “news”). We must not feel uncomfortable with making some truths more important than other truths. This is exactly what Paul and the other biblical writers did. Are you clear in your understanding of what you must believe to be a Christian? Godlessness and falsehood often go together. We must prioritize the doctrines that the biblical writers emphasized.

We must agree upon three things in order to put our trust in God and be saved. God, the Bible and the gospel. We have to believe in the one true God—that He is one, that He is triune, that He is uncreated, that He is morally perfect and that He is the one we are called to believe in. There are theologians today who speak of “anonymous Christians,” of people who believe in no God or in another God. But the Bible does not support this. We have to believe that the Bible is how we know the truth of God. How do we know what God is like? Because He has revealed Himself in Scripture. We must believe the gospel. The good news is that Jesus Christ became incarnate. Without this understanding we couldn’t uphold the truth of God’s triune nature. We also confess his substitutionary death on the cross, of His resurrection and His impending return. We are made right with God by faith alone, by trusting in this Jesus. Someone who does not believe in this gospel is not a Christian. Calling yourself doesn’t make you that, so even though many people consider themselves Christians and call themselves by Christ’s name, they cannot be truly saved unless they believe this.

What may we disagree about? This is not giving permission to not care about things God says in His Word, but rather, showing how much we can cooperate with others who share the gospel. You can have disagreements about practical matters and some of these things may even cause people to separate into different churches. We see this even in Acts 15 where Paul and Barnabas came to mutually exclusive opinions and decided to separate in love. There are a number of issues in the New Testament that people disagreed with—issues such as eating meat offered to idols and Paul allowed them to disagree as long as they still recognized that both parties were Christians. You can work together with another Christian as long as you won’t be distracted by the things which you disagree on. What are disputable matters today? There are too many to list, but Dever offered and expounded upon four test cases: the millennium, prayers for the dead, complementarianism and egalitarianism, and cooperation in evangelism.

How can we disagree well? Dever turned to the Reformation phrase “In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.” He looked also to Roger Nicole who asks “What do I owe the person who differs from me?” The Bible tells us we owe love, respect, charity. Be sure to honestly and respectfully represent the opponent’s view. Consider what goals you share and ask what the other person is aiming at with his belief. Nicole also asks, “What can I learn from the person I’m differing with?” You must not be more interesting in winning an argument. We’ll need humility to do this, welcoming correction as the enemy of your pride.

Ultimately we want to be known more for what we are for than what we are against. And we are for the gospel. In essentials unity. In non-essentials diversity. In all things love.

May 27, 2007

I think the powers that be must have read my blog and noted my comments about the music being “not quite rock concert loud.” This morning the music seemed noticeably louder. I’m quite the fan of loud music, so this suits me fine, even if it is difficult to use my laptop when my foot keeps tapping. When 3,000 voices are added to the already amplified singers and instruments, it becomes very loud indeed. It’s a good thing.

I’m sitting in the middle of the room at a table with four other people, all attempting to describe what’s happening here. There are two guys from Boundless and Ricky Alcantar from New Attitude. On the other side of the sound booth is another table where I believe the Rebelution guys have set up shop for the weekend. And during the times of teaching there are laptops throughout the auditorium with others typing out their thoughts and, no doubt, posting them for the world to read. This morning I met up with Josh [Harris] at Starbucks and we were imagining what a conference would look like where there was no liveblogging, no audio recording and no video. Conferences have become something that people can experience by proxy-that they can experience, at least in part, even if they are not at the actual event. It’s a good thing, too.

The morning opened with something called Community Groups and Family Groups, where the people attending the conference join together in small groups to begin to apply what has been taught and what they are learning. Every Community Group is divided into several Family Groups, each led by a young man who leads and guides discussion and prayer. There are, I believe, 180 of these groups. Aileen and I are not participating in these, so you’ll have to go elsewhere to find out what this part of the experience is all about. I’m sure it’s also a good thing.

There are to be three general sessions today (and three tomorrow and one on Tuesday). It’s hard to believe it’s Sunday today as the days all kind of seem the same at conferences. We’ll hear from Mark Dever this morning, then from Al Mohler this afternoon, and finally from C.J. Mahaney this evening. It’s a busy day, really, with sessions running from 10:45 AM until 10 PM. It’s bound to be a great thing.

May 26, 2007

We arrived in Louisville after two good and uneventful flights, including one that is the shortest I’ve ever been on. Our first hop took us from Toronto to Cincinnati, a flight of about an hour and a half. The flight from Cincy to Louisville clocked in at just sixteen minutes or something like that. No sooner were we up than we were down and on our way to the hotel. After waiting through a long check-in line at the hotel (it seems we arrived at the Galt House at the same time as a busload of conference attendees being shuttled in from the airport) we got settled into our beautiful and spacious room. And then we went to find the conference venue, the same venue that will be used for next year’s Together for the Gospel Conference. And here we are.

Now this is definitely not your grandmother’s conference. I don’t say that to be disrespectful to grandmothers. Rather, this is a conference both by and for young Christians. And it shows. It is loud (not quite rock concert loud but pretty close) and boisterous. Yet it is controlled and clearly well put together. There is a lot of excitement in the room along with the 3,000 or so young people in attendance—people representing 39 states, 6 countries and 3 continents. It’s certainly a far cry from some of the more recent conferences I’ve been to: The Basics, Twin Lakes, Ligonier and so on. And that is part of my attraction to it. I am, once again, delighting in diversity.

The conference kicked off at 7:30 and began with a worship set that included a mix of hymns, modern worship songs, choruses and a few Sovereign Grace favorites. Eric Simmons then introduced the conference and its topic—spiritual discernment. It seems that the purpose of this conference, like the New Attitude conferences before it, is to rediscover truth and to live in the light of it. Sounds good to me!

The first teaching session fell, as we might expect, to Josh Harris. His exhortation was simple: we must be humble before truth. When we encounter truth we need to first live it ourselves and then humbly proclaim it to this lost world. We need to proclaim this truth not as people who are right but as people who have been rescued. You can’t have humble orthodoxy without discernment. You can only love the truth if you can distinguish it from error, and this is what discernment is all about. Tonight’s goal is to introduce the topic and to convince us of its importance, thus whetting our appetites for what is going to come over the next three days.

So what is discernment? The simplest definition is “the ability to judge well.” It is the ability to identify something of good quality. A person with a discerning ear is a person who can judge good music or a person with a discerning eye is a person who chooses his decorations or clothes tastefully. Conversely, when people choose poor quality we say that they lack discernment. Discernment is very similar to possessing wisdom and the two are very closely connected. Wisdom is the ability to understand and to see life in light of who God is and how He has created the world and then to make appropriate decisions. Discernment is a part of living a wise life but is specifically the ability to distinguish between things. The root word means “to separate apart.” Discernment is the ability to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error, wise and unwise. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” This is a description of the activity of discernment. First you test, examine and look closely. You determine the true nature of what you’re interacting with. And then you have to sort that idea or concept—you need to hold on to or cling to what is good and avoid what is evil. You need to not only see and distinguish but also act on what you see in light of what God values. This is really quite straight forward. If that’s discernment, do we really need a whole conference about this?

Josh provided two reasons we need to give attention to this topic. First, discernment is not as simple as doing something like picking the peanuts from a bowl of Cracker Jacks. We are not born with a full measure of discernment and it is not always obvious what is good and what is evil. If people always announced that they were evil, discernment would always be an easy discipline. Yet the real content and the eventual consequences of ideas and practices that we encounter in this world and in the Christian subculture are not always obvious. There are subtle, unhelpful tendencies; there are pitfalls we don’t immediately see. Discernment between wise and unwise counsel isn’t always easy and it’s sometimes mixed together.

The second reason we need to take the time to focus on discernment is because whether or not we have this discernment is a matter of life and death. These are not exaggerated words. There are portions of life where discernment is of little consequence, but in the spiritual realm we’re talking about our souls. We’re talking about whether or not we will know and obey the truth that has the power to redeem fallen humanity. We’re talking about whether or not we will know the living God for who He is. We’re talking about whether we’ll walk the narrow road leading to life or the broad path leading to destruction. We see this throughout the Bible where people have set before them the path to life or death. Discernment matters because our souls are at stake and we have the chance to distinguish truth and live it in such a way that we can serve those around us—people who need to hear the untainted gospel. Discernment ultimately matters because God’s glory is at stake. The right understanding and right application of God’s Word brings glory to Him.

The Bible tells us in many places how we can grow in discernment. It shows us that this is not the privilege of only a few Christians. There are several passages Josh pointed out: Psalm 119:125, Daniel 2:21 and 1 Kings 3:9. We’re not only to ask for it but to work at it. The first step in gaining this knowledge is studying God’s Word: There are several passages pertaining to this as well: Psalm 119:104, Ephesians 5:10, Hebrews 5:14.

The remainder of the message was based around Romans 12:1-2.

Chapter twelve of Romans is a significant transition in this letter. He has just explained that we can only be justified by faith in Jesus who died as our substitute. The first eleven chapters provide the glorious gospel. In chapter twelve Paul makes the transition from the truth of the gospel and begins to look at the ethical implications for this gospel on our lives. He turns to practical application. These first two verses are very pivotal, holding on to two things: the truth of the gospel and gospel living. And this is what discernment is really all about. Holding on to the truth and to the application. “I appeal to you therefore brothers by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” In light of what Jesus has done for you, here is the perfect response: Give Him everything that you are.

In verse two Paul explains the work that is involved in maintaining a life of worship like this. How do you stay on the altar as a living sacrifice? How do you live a life that is fully given to the Lord? It tells us we need to live in a certain way so we can perceive the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. The reason we want discernment is so that we can know and follow God’s will. The reason we want to grow in discernment is that we want God. We want to please Him and walk humbly with Him, glorifying Him. This passage tells us what this kind of discernment requires:

Discernment requires resistance. “Do not be conformed to this world.” It could also read “do not be conformed to this age.” We need to resist being pulled along by the modern godless way of thinking like the world. Don’t think like the way this world thinks. Resist this! An aspect of discernment is taking the time to understand our age and its values. Do you know how this world is trying to make you conform to it? Have you ever taken the time to truly understand the values of our age? This takes a lifetime of hard work to do and that’s why a conference like this needs to celebrate the teaching of men who are a generation or two ahead of us. We need those who have trained themselves in discernment so they can come along beside us and help us understand the culture. The resistance takes work but inevitably following God’s way and choosing His good and acceptable and perfect way involves being rejected by this world. It involves the loss of this world’s admiration and respect. Not being conformed means that you don’t fit in. It means that you’re going to be left out. You need to count that cost. This is one thing to agree to during a conference like this, but a completely different matter when we get to real life. The practice of discernment requires a break with the world. Christian nonconformity is not the cool kind. When rock stars are nonconformists they are cool, but when Christians are nonconformists we’re idiots; we look silly. If you’re not willing to die to the desire to appear sophisticated and hip and together in the eyes of the world then we will never be willing to risk conformity and we will never be discerning. We want to serve Jesus, but we want to do so in a way where people will say “Those Christians really aren’t so bad. They’re really kind of cool in their Christian kind of way.” If we allow this desire to rule us, we will let our theology and lifestyle be molded by the world’s pattern and discernment dies.

Discernment requires renewal. Instead of being conformed to our age we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. This means a constant reclaiming of the truths of God’s Word. We don’t just hear God’s Word once and figure we’ve got it down, but instead we need to constantly review and renew the truths of the Word. They need to be constantly renewed.

Discernment requires action. The purpose of resisting conformity and being transformed is so that by testing you may discern God’s will. You can’t discern God’s will by sitting back and evaluating from a distance. Armchair discernment that is never played out in real life is not true discernment. Rather, it requires theologically-informed action. The only way for you to grow in discernment is to act on what God has already revealed to you. We could say that discernment requires application or implementation. You can’t fully understand or appreciate how good and acceptable and perfect God’s will is until you apply it to your life. We don’t test God’s will in the way a teacher might give a pop quiz. We are not in the position of authority. This is saying that we must test and examine it by obeying it and doing it. When by grace we obey God’s Word we are testing the goodness of His way and we find that it is truly good. It is also important to note that when we fail to act on truth, discernment dies. When God makes something clear and you don’t live in light of that truth, you’re not only disobeying God but you’re also stepping into spiritual blindness; you’re deceiving yourself. For many here, the best thing you can do to grow in discernment is simply to obey God in the places that He has already made His will clear in His Word.

Discernment requires the gospel. In the flow of our text this point really should have been the first point, but it’s here because it’s the most important point to make. The work of Christ undergirds all we say and teach about discernment. We cannot rightly live the Christian life, we cannot be holy, we cannot be discerning unless we understand that the foundation of everything is not what we have done and not what we do, but what Jesus Christ has done for us. Paul points us back to the glorious gospel. Even this application is built upon the gospel. Discernment must never be separated from the gospel because it’s only possible to discern because of the gospel. We can only resist conforming to the world because Jesus’ work on the cross has freed us from the dominion of sin. Because of Christ we can now resist the devil and obey God. Our practice of discernment must be done with great humility because we know that it is through God’s mercy that we can discern anything. We discern in view of God’s mercy. There is no place for an arrogant practice of discernment. Self-righteous views of discernment have no place and make no sense. To have a heart of superiority has nothing to do with the mercy that you have been shown. If we practice discernment in view of God’s mercy we will practice it with humility. Any time you open your Bible and see and understand something, anytime you turn from any kind of error, that moment is a moment for you to thank God for His mercy in your life.

The theme for NA 2007 is discernment, but even while we focus on this, let’s not be preoccupied on it. Let’s be preoccupied by the undeserved mercy we’ve been given. We see only because Jesus died for us. Discernment is not an end in itself and is not our destination. God calls us to something greater. He wants all of us and His call on each person is to offer our very bodies to Him as living sacrifices. He calls us to give up any claim we have on our own life, any desire to rule and decide for ourselves. Discernment is simply the fruit of a life willingly offered to God. It is the result of knowing and enjoying our glorious God.

Josh closed with Roy Ortmund Jr.’s paraphrase of these verses, which went on just a little too long and a little too fast for me to be able to capture…

I’ll be back tomorrow with several updates, including summaries of sessions led by Mark Dever, Al Mohler and C.J. Mahaney.

May 26, 2007

This morning Aileen and I are leaving for sunny (we hope) and beautiful Louisville, Kentucky so we can take in the New Attitude conference which runs from this evening until Tuesday morning. It will feature a great group of speakers: Joshua Harris, Eric Simmons, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney and, of course, the ever-present John Piper. The topic, spiritual discernment, is of particular interest to me and I look forward to learning all sorts of things I will only be able to wish I had added to my book before submitting it to the publisher. It should be an educational, exciting and humbling weekend.

Now I am clearly far too old to be at this conference. Looking at the photographs from last year’s conference I can see that the average person there will be much younger and, no doubt, much more energetic. The conference schedule reflects this with the evening sessions ending after my normal bed time!

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This will be the first time Aileen has accompanied me to a conference and she is looking forward to seeing what these conferences are all about. We’re also bringing the baby with us (is she still a baby at one year of age?) so if you’re going to be there, look out for the two old people with the little red-headed baby. We’d love to meet you. Also, keep an eye out for the Crossway booth or table where I believe they’ll be giving away downloadable copies of a portion of my book.

This will be the final conference on my busy spring itinerary and it looks like it will be a great way to close out the season. Check back later today (quite a bit later, really) and I should have the first update long after the sun goes down. See you in Louisville!

By the way, here is a funky video about the conference.