Any good Protestant will tell you that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. That is a powerful truth that frees us from the futile cycle of spiritual perfectionism, which is a fruitless attempt to earn our way into God’s favor. We are not saved by the good things we do. We are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. But here’s the question you have to ask yourself: Do I know what faith is? When the New Testament authors used the Greek word pistis to write about faith, are you thinking of faith the same way that they were thinking of pistis? Because if the only thing by which we are saved is faith, then we ought to know exactly what it is. There’s a lot riding on this.


If the only thing by which we are saved is faith, then we ought to know exactly what it is.

You might be thinking to yourself, “The Bible tells us plainly what faith is: it’s the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.” Yes, that’s true. The author of Hebrews talks about faith in these terms. But this is not a definition of the word faith as much as it is a description of faith in a believer’s life. Faith is experienced as the present reality of a hoped-for future based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Faith is a life lived in resurrection hope, and in this way, the life of faith is its own proof for the existence – and especially the death, resurrection, and ascension – of Jesus. But you can see that this is a description of Christian faith, not a definition of the apostolic usage of the Greek word pistis.

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Men, you are kings. In Christ, you are the kings of the earth. You have been made to bear the image of the Most High God, the one who rules over all creation. His plan for you was for you to rule in his name. The reason that you exist is to bring God’s wisdom and order to the wild and waste parts of the earth. In his book The Unseen Realm, Michael Heiser writes, God’s “desire was to live among them [the humans], and for them to rule and reign with him.” God has made you to exercise his authority over his creation by his side.

That’s a high calling, to say the least. And if you’re anything like me, you don’t feel like a king. Not even close. Most days I feel more like the court jester than a wise and noble sovereign. A sniveling cynic. An excuse-making coward. An ignorant buffoon. But that is not who I am. It is not who you are. In Christ, you are a man who has been called, equipped, and destined to rule the earth – and not just the earth, the entire cosmos! – with confidence, courage, and wisdom. This, THIS, is Who. You. Are.


God has made you to exercise his authority over his creation by his side.

God doesn’t want to rule you; he wants to rule with you. God doesn’t want to exercise authority over you; he wants to exercise authority through you. Now, it takes humility and submission from us in order for God to rule with and through us, but humility and submission aren’t the point. They are the means to God’s end: to selflessly share power and authority with his creatures for the good of his creation. A good creation would be filled with creatures who cannot sin, but the best possible creation would be governed by creatures who possess, by nature, the freedom and power to rule alongside the ruling Creator. Only these creatures will have learned, through their own catastrophic failure and God’s remarkable redemption, that God’s wisdom is truly wise, that God’s ways are completely good, and that the fullness of life can only be found along his path.

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Avengers: Infinity War is the greatest Catholic film of all time. That statement is a bit cheeky, given that: a) There is no Christ-figure in the film; and b) I’m not Catholic. But the force that drives the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to resist the archvillain Thanos is the same force that animates the Catholic Church against the culture of death: the conviction that life is inherently sacred.

As an evangelical Protestant, I used to perceive Catholicism as a works-based religion that taught its unwitting adherents to try to earn their way into heaven. While I am less certain that I understand Catholic soteriology today than I did in my twenties, one thing has become clear to me about the Catholic Church: it is the last great bulwark against the culture of death in the West. One by one, the Protestant denominations have fallen, giving up the fight against the creeping malevolence of the sexual revolution and its self-interested ideology of population control. Like second-tier Marvel superheroes, many Protestants have disappeared into thin air, but Bishop Thor and Cardinal Iron Man remain in the battle.

Thanos is the classic, militant hippie who never gave up on the, now discredited, teachings of The Population Bomb. There are too many people! The universe can’t possibly support them all! Humans (and their other world counterparts) are stripping the cosmos bare, voraciously devouring the scarce resources of every planet. Thanos’ own home world, we are led to believe, suffered such a fate. But did it? The ruins of his planet resemble the ravages of war, not the desperation of famine.

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For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. -Ephesians 6:12

It is difficult for me, and perhaps for many followers of Jesus, to remain within this tension about which Paul is speaking. We fight against the demonic rulers and dark powers of the world, not against the humans through which that evil is made manifest. And yet, as the events of Charlottesville exploded across our social media timelines, it became nearly impossible to discern between the dark powers of evil and the white supremacists through which that evil came. As a foster father with two African-American children in my home, I felt a personal rage welling up within me, a readiness to fight to protect these two kiddos whom I have grown to love. While I have always found the evil of white supremacy to be particularly vicious, putting black babies to bed in my own home has created a heightened sense of urgency for me.

Even though my family has not been directly assaulted in any way, I have seen the vileness of white supremacists online as they have spewed their hatred at ethnically-mixed families in general, and white families with black children in particular. To see it manifested in the real world, as it was so brazenly this past weekend in Charlottesville, activates a fighting instinct within me. (And I have never been a fighter.)

This instinct to physically fight white supremacists, however, is neither constructive for our society nor reflective of the way of Jesus. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood people, even when those people are trying to pick a fight by insulting our most deeply held values by denigrating entire ethnic groups. Instead, our struggle is against the systemic evils of our society – racism, in this case – that entrap our fellow image-bearers of God into their broken ideology and dark philosophy. Racism is the invention of Satan and his fellow evil spiritual forces, for they lust to divide humanity into competing subgroups, driving us to devour and destroy each other. They do this, as they do everything, with lies; particularly, they do this with the lie that a human’s value is dependent upon their ethnic identity, and this lie’s equal if not opposite twin, that all the world is out to destroy my particular ethnic group. Racism is the ironic combination of ethnic arrogance and perceived ethnic victimization. Pride and fear, convenient footholds for the devil’s lies.

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Several weeks ago I preached a message at Hope Church called The Sanctifying Work of the Holy Spirit (audio is above) as part of our 5 Marks of a Healthy Disciple series. A big chunk of this sermon was taken up by an explanation of what I call the sanctification cycle. I have found that sanctification happens in four general phases. (I use the word phases rather than steps because these do not always go in order, they often overlap, and sometimes happen all at the same time.) These phases represent the cyclical work of the Holy Spirit as he forms believers into the image of Jesus. Just as we are never truly done with phase one, we never truly master phase four in this life.

As you journey with Jesus, perhaps the sanctification cycle can serve as a sort of map for where the Spirit has you. On what is the Spirit focussing his sanctifying efforts in your life? Identifying the work of the Spirit in specific terms will help you cooperate with him to achieve his goals for your good. Is he convicting you of sin? If so, what sin? How can you focus your energies on overcoming that sin? Is he empowering you for mission? If so, has he given you specific direction? Of course, it may not be so easy to identify the work of the Spirit, but having a map could help you hear his voice more clearly.

Phase One: Conviction of Sin

The first phase of the sanctification cycle is the conviction of sin. As he was describing the work of the Spirit, Jesus told his disciples that one of his primary tasks was to convict the world of sin and righteousness. This is true for every believer, too. One of the most important tasks of the Holy Spirit is to name our sin and call us to repentance. Unnamed sins maintain their hold on our lives, but God longs to set us free from the power of sin. He wants us to live in the same freedom, and with the same power over sin, in which Jesus lived.

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