Somewhere along the way we got this idea that God is really interested in giving us a good, easy life. That he wants us to be happy. That he wants us to deal with the least amount of pain possible. That suffering has no part in his will for our lives.

Maybe those things are true, but the reality of the world that I live in, and the reality of the person that I am, is that there are parts of my deep heart that are violently opposed to God. There are yet-unredeemed parts of my being that rage against God when things don’t go the way I expect they should go, or when I don’t get what I want, or when I perceive that God has not delivered on a promise that I tried to manipulate him into making to me. Sin is simply a part of who I am, and it will take God at least the rest of my natural life to transform me into the image of his Son.

Transformation is painful. It’s one thing to give up some sin that you don’t really care about, it’s another thing altogether to repent of the ways in which your very personality, and way of thinking, has been corrupted by the sins you commit and the sins committed against you. That’s the transformation that leaves a mark on your character.

God is good. And I’ve got the scars to prove it.

This is a sort of paraphrase of the things that Paul wrote about his own life with God to the many churches that received letters from him. God hit Paul where it hurt him most time and again. He even once said to a man about Paul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” He’s done that with many of the great saints of church history.

God wounds us because only by being wounded can we move through healing toward godliness.

Suffering is the definitive mark of a disciple of Jesus. After all, we follow the one who was crucified on our behalf. And like what Jesus suffered on the cross, the suffering we endure will one day be redeemed by our Heavenly Father.

I believe that God is currently trying to root out all the sinful desires, all the idolatry, and all the wickedness from your heart. That’s what he’s doing to me. And it hurts. But he’s doing it in order to make us like his Son. He’s doing it because he’s good; I’ve got the scars to prove it. And if you stick with God long enough, if you stick with him through the crap of your life and engage with what he’s doing in the midst of it, you too will be marked with the scars that prove the goodness of God.

I don’t know where you’re at today. I don’t know what setbacks you’ve encountered recently. I don’t know what you’re going through right now. Maybe you’re having a crisis of faith–in God, in people, in yourself. Maybe what was once so certain has become hazy, gone out of focus like a bad photograph.

I’ve had a lot of fun planting Ember Church, but I’d be lying to you if I told you that it was easy. Church planting is hard work, if for no other reason than that the devil is opposed to it. We’ve experienced setbacks. We’ve gone through trials. We were cruising along the highway going 65 when all of a sudden someone put a speedbump on the interstate. Every church planting team goes through this. Every established church goes through this. Heck, every family, every corporation, every school goes through this. It’s a part of life.

What makes it especially difficult for a church planting team, though, is that you begin to ask questions like, “Is God still with us? Does he want us to quit? Are we doing the right thing here?” What was once so certain becomes hazy when we get hit by the trials of life. It happens. Trials happen. It doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us. Quite the opposite, actually. Any team that’s doing God’s work and fulfilling his purposes for their community will experience resistance from Satan.

The enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy. He wants to steal your joy. He wants to kill your spirit. He wants to destroy the work of God in your life. That is always his aim. He wants you to doubt God’s call on your life. He wants you to doubt God’s presence with you. Don’t. Faith is trusting in God despite the mounting evidence. Faith sees with eyes that look through circumstances and see the living God, standing in the midst of it all, inviting you to his side. Faith sees the true, deeper reality, that God is–that he simply and fully is–and in that finds overwhelming joy.

In one of the most incredible passages in the whole Bible, Peter puts it like this:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope

through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,

who through faith are shielded by God’s power

until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

In all this you greatly rejoice,

though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith

—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—

may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Though you have not seen him,

you love him;

and even though you do not see him now,

you believe in him

and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

for you are receiving the end result of your faith,

the salvation of your souls.

That’s 1 Peter 1:3-9. You should probably read it again.

You have been given an entirely new life, a life that is rooted in a hope that lives because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. You have been given an inheritance that can never wear out or be destroyed–an inheritance that Jesus is keeping for you in heaven.

God’s power shields you from the wiles and lies of Satan through your faith in Jesus Christ. This protection lasts for more than a moment–it lasts from this moment until the day Jesus returns in power and glory to judge and reign on the earth.

Because of this…rejoice! Greatly rejoice! Even though you’re going through crap right now, that crap has come so that you have the opportunity to persevere–so that you can see just how genuine your faith in Jesus is. And rejoice, because this crap too shall pass.

You haven’t seen him; and yet you love him. You haven’t seen him; and yet you have put your trust in him–the resurrected King of the cosmos. And when you press into that reality, into what is really real and truly true, then you will be filled with an inexpressible joy because, in that, you are receiving what your faith has promised, the salvation of your soul in the here and now.

Yesterday I wrote about the first two of five gospel perspectives that enable us to truly live out the gospel: The Extent and Gravity of Our Sin and The Centrality of the Heart. This is all part of a larger discussion about gospel substitutes and the true gospel, inspired by Lane & Tripp’s book How People Change. (For crying out loud, if you read my blog and you still haven’t ordered this book yet…I don’t even know. You need to read it!) Without further ado, here are the final three gospel perspectives.

3. The Present Benefits of Christ

The Christian hope is more than a redemptive system with practical principles that can change your life. The hope of every Christian is a person, the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He is the wisdom behind every biblical principle and the power we need to live them out. Because Christ lives inside us today, because he rules all things for our sakes (see Eph. 2:22-23), and because he is presently putting all his enemies under his feet (see 1 Cor. 15:25-28), we can live with courage and hope.

Our hope is not in our theological knowledge or our experience within the body of Christ. We are thankful for these things, yet we hold on to one hope: Christ. In him we find everything we need to live a godly life in the here and now. Paul captures it so well: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

You have Jesus. He is with you through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Everything you need to live the gospel truly and fully–to live the life God has designed for you to live–is available to you because you have Jesus. You lack nothing because Jesus lacks nothing. Jesus didn’t just die for your sins, he rose again from the dead for your righteousness. He is alive and with you in the person of the Holy Spirit.

4. God’s Call to Growth and Change

It is so easy to coast! We have been accepted into God’s family, and someday will be with him in eternity. But what goes on in between? From the time we come to Christ until the time we go home to be with him, God calls us to change. We have been changed by his grace, are being changed by his grace, and will be changed by his grace.

What is the goal of this change? It is more than a better marriage, well-adjusted children, professional success, or freedom from a few nagging sins. God’s goal is that we would actually become like him. He doesn’t just want you to escape the fires of hell—though we praise God that through Christ you can! His goal is to free us from our slavery to sin, our bondage to self, and our functional idolatry, so that we actually take on his character!

Peter summarizes the change this way: ‘Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires’ (2 Peter 1:4).

God has an end in mind, and it is to conform you into the image of his Son. God is out to make you like Jesus. Everything he’s doing in you and through you and with you has a singular purpose: Christlikeness. This demands that we never stop growing and changing, because there will always be more of us that needs to be transformed. Never stop growing.

5. A Lifestyle of Repentance and Faith

God has blessed you with his grace, gifted you with his presence, strengthened you with his power, and made you the object of his eternal love. Because we belong to him, we live for his agenda. And if change is his agenda, then repentance and faith is the lifestyle to which we have been called.

There are always new sins for the Christian to address and new enemies to defeat. The Christian life makes God’s work of change our paradigm for living, while we celebrate the grace that makes it possible. ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:11-13).

In order to participate with God in his project of the transformation of our hearts, we must be committed to live lives of humility, characterized by repentance and faith. If you think you have nothing to repent of, then you are not working with God–you’re working against him.

Remember that sin is extensive and weighty; it is more than just something we do, it is who we are. But praise God, through a lifestyle of repentance and faith, the gospel says, “That is who you were. Jesus is who you are becoming.”

Last week I asked my pastor to mentor me, and he told me to just look in the mirror and do whatever that guy tells me. I wasn’t sure if he was serious (about half-serious), but I was certainly convicted by his point. I already know what I need to do, it’s just a matter of doing it. And that’s the hard part, isn’t it? It never seems to matter how much I want to exercise (or do a lot of things that I want or should do), I simply don’t do it. My lack of discipline and get-up-and-go is truly embarrassing. Would I want other people to have my will power? Is this how I would want my friends to live their lives?
Doing the things that I want and should do is really what is best for me. They are the things that I want my friends to do because they are what is best for them. So if I want the best for others, why do I refuse (like a sluggard) to do the best for myself? It truly is humiliating. I ought to listen to the man in the mirror.

So in that vein, here the simple things that I want and ought to do to live the life I’ve always wanted:

[list]
  • read the Bible every day as an act of worship
  • engage in more thoughtful acts of worship and devotion
  • pray on my way to and from work
  • exercise every day
  • pray with my wife at night
  • eat healthy food
  • stop drinking pop
  • spend less than I make
  • tithe every month
  • save every month
  • stay engaged at work
  • work on my screenplay every day
  • take photos once a week
  • read a book a week
  • spend better time with my family
  • have intentionally spiritual conversations with friends
  • lavish others with praise
[/list]

I suppose the list could go on. But really, what is so hard about any of these? Why is it so difficult to do these things consistently? I want to do all of them, but I constantly find myself doing other things that have no lasting value.

What a wretched man I am. Were it not for the grace of Jesus, I would be utterly lost. Thank you Jesus, may I be found in you. Please give me the strength of will to do the things I want and ought to do.

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