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This will probably be my last post here for a while. This week I've been in Covid-jail so I've written a flurry (Preaching that Cuts Like a Hammer, Let the Law Speak to Your Flesh, and Take Heart: God is Disciplining You). But now the 2nd red line has nearly faded so I'll soon be back to doing stuff for Speak Life. Follow me there and on Twitter @glenscrivener

The King and the Maiden

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote a story to explore the mystery of the incarnation. It's called the Parable of the King and the Maiden. In it, a King falls in love with a maiden but he despairs of ever being with her. If he propositions her in his finery, how could she truly consent? She would always feel obligated to obey the king and yet "all the power in the world cannot unlock the human heart—it must be opened from within." If he simply elevates her to the palace, "she would be overwhelmed. How would he ever know if she loved him for himself, or for all that he had given her?"

There was only one thing for it, the king would truly have to descend to her level — to live as a pauper and meet her as an equal.

He did not just take on the outward appearance of a servant, he became a servant–it was his actual life, his actual nature, his actual burden. He became as ragged as the one he loved so that she could be his forever. It was the only way. His raggedness became the very signature of his presence.

This is the glory of the incarnation. It is not really a veiling of glory, but a demonstration of the true glory of the King. His stooping is his greatness and those who see it grasp his heart of hearts.

In a sense Jesus takes the premise of "Undercover Boss" more seriously than the TV producers. If you haven't seen the show, "Undercover Boss" is a paint-by-numbers reality program where CEOs stoop to becoming low-level employees in their own businesses. Of course they can't look like a CEO or the jig is up. They go undercover to see life on the other side and at the end of each episode there is a reckoning: having seen their employees up close, they punish the lazy and rude and they lavishly reward the hard-working.

Jesus doesn't just come as Undercover Boss though. He comes as Undercover Suitor, wooing the world, up -close and personal. Yet the incarnation, while being Christ's definitive stooping, is not the only stooping. Check out Luke 9; Matthew 25; and Hebrews 13.

The Little Ones

Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

— Luke 9:48

Trace the logic of this incredible verse from the end to the beginning: God the Father puts Jesus into the world saying: "The way you treat Jesus is the way you treat Me." Jesus is Undercover God — revealing his true glory in his stooping. But now Jesus puts little ones into the world—weak, helpless, defenceless people—and Jesus says: "The way you treat this little child is the way you treat Me." 

This is a life-altering verse. Because it means we can encounter Jesus not just in his word but also in his world. Do we want to embrace Jesus? Then in the name of Jesus embrace the little ones.

As an aside, it's worth knowing that in England 95 children enter the care system every day. Over 100 000 children are looked after away from home. There are over 2000 children waiting for adoption in England. Jesus says “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." Here's a really good reason to support fostering and adoption—in fact it's the best reason—you will meet God

Down through church history people have spoken in this way of Christ hiding himself in the world. The stooping greatness of Jesus continues. It did not cease with the incarnation and the cross. Christ continues to come to us disguised as our life and playing the parts we might least expect. 

The Last, the Least and the Lost

Remember in Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and goats. The sheep say to King Jesus:

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

— Matthew 25:37-40

Undercover Jesus strikes again! Yet his lowly presence in our midst does not conceal his identity, it reveals his true self. The Father is known in his stooping Servant, Christ. And Christ is known—yes, in his word and by his Spirit—but he is also known in the lowly. Jesus is hidden in the little ones. And, as Matthew 25 tells us, he is also hidden in the least, the last and the lost. But we will miss Jesus if we will not stoop.

The Stooping God

There was an old Jewish saying among the Rabbis. They asked one another why appearances of God were so rare. In the early parts of the Bible God would show up and people would see him. Why can’t people see God any more? And a Rabbi answers, “Because nowadays no one can stoop so low.” God hides himself. He hides himself in a penniless carpenter who becomes a travelling preacher who becomes a bleeding sacrifice. He hides himself there and truly reveals himself. Because his greatness is always a stooping greatness. But he has not stopped hiding himself. He comes to you and continues to come to you dressed as the details of your life and playing the characters you normally ignore: that homeless man, that lonely prisoner, that starving refugee, that needy friend, that difficult child. 

Jesus is not just above you, commanding your compassion. He is not just in you, inspiring your compassion. He is in them, receiving your compassion.

Do you want to embrace Jesus? Then embrace the little ones. Embrace the least, the last and the lost.  And you can embrace the lonely and the left out too. That's the wonder of Hebrews 13:12-13

The Lonely and the Left Out

Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

In the book of Hebrews, the location of Jesus is mentioned in most chapters. Throughout the letter Jesus is said to be 'at the right hand of the Father.' And he is. But in the final chapter the writer tells us another place to meet Jesus: outside the camp. Sure, we can meet Jesus as we approach God's throne in prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16). Sure, we can meet Jesus among the Lord's people on the Lord's day (Hebrews 12:22-25). But afterwards, when you walk down Mount Zion and into the world there is another kind of encounter  you can enjoy. You can go outside the camp—outside the safe place, the clean place, the place where God is known. And as you go there, you are not leaving Jesus behind, you are meeting him afresh.

So 'let us go to him.' Not just the him above us at God's right hand. Not just the him in his word by the Holy Spirit. Let us go to him in his world. Undercover Jesus will see you now. Will we see him?

A sermon (from 13 minutes in):


Let's build on the last two posts (here and here). They happened to be about preaching but they raise a deeper question about listening to God. Are we hearing God's challenges to us? Might God be speaking to us in the specifics of our lives but we're deaf to it? Spoiler alert: the answer is, absolutely.

My contention is that God our Father is speaking to us far more than we may think but that, generally, we pay little attention.

And the reasons we pay so little attention are just what we've been exploring in the last two posts. We fail to grasp:

  1. The law and gospel distinction;
  2. The three uses of the law; and
  3. The difference between flesh and Spirit.

If we were solid on these points we would know:

  1. I am secure in Christ, no matter my daily disobedience;
  2. God, nonetheless, has much to teach me and instruct me in; and
  3. I can and must let God's corrections 'speak to my flesh'.

In other words I can expect God to correct me. And I can let God correct me without self-protection, self-justification or self-condemnation.

Usually, though, we don't see things like that. I mean, be honest, when you read the title of this blog post, what was your reaction? "God is disciplining me?? How dare you! How could you possibly know!"? We think of discipline as a rare occurrence for wayward children. But that's not how the Bible speaks:

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”[Proverbs 3:11-12]

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,”[Proverbs 4:26] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

— Hebrews 12:4-13

From this it seems obvious that every child of God should expect ongoing fatherly discipline—not just the naughty kids who have to stay behind after class. Everyone. "Endure hardship as discipline" says God's word. So, do I experience hardship? Check. OK, my default understanding should be: My Father is specifically and intentionally training, correcting, chastising, and rebuking me (all those words are used in this passage).

I may not understand the whys and wherefores of God but neither is it foolish or fruitless to ask what he might be up to. On this understanding God is far more present and active in the ups and downs of our lives than many are comfortable with. Because one response to this is: "No, God does not 'pay us back for our sins', that would be a denial of the gospel! There is 'no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus', (Romans 8:1), this means God will never bring consequences into our lives for our sins."

This is why I spent so long setting out the three truths above. Before heaven I have no sins to answer for: I have the spotless righteousness of Christ. But on the earth, I live in Adam's world, inhabiting Adam's flesh and this whole realm is one of death, curse and consequences. We know for a fact that Christians must face the consequences of sin in this world because, for one thing, every one of us will die.

Christ's death does not shield me from my death, instead it transforms it from 'perishing' to 'falling asleep.' The same is true for all the consequences I experience in this world. I still experience them. Wonderfully, though, I experience them not as the punishment of a Judge but as the intentional and custom-made discipline of a loving Father. It is the fire, not of wrath, but of refinement. 

"Don't be surprised by the fiery trial" therefore (1 Peter 4:12). And don't be surprised when sin's consequences play themselves out in your life—you still have Adam's flesh and you live in Adam's world. Receive the law's diagnosis of those persisting sins. Receive the Father's discipline in your difficult circumstances. In Jesus you can finally take your sin seriously because your own ego has been taken out of the equation. Your ego was crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), the real you is now hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). Now you can address your sins without self-protection, self-justification, or self-condemnation. Now you can properly deal with them and not for any heavenly brownie points but for the sake of those you've harmed.

In all this I need to know in my bones that Christ is stronger than Adam, that the Spirit is stronger than the flesh, and that the Father's love is stronger than my present sins and circumstances. (That's why I started this series with preaching—I need these truths ringing in my ears constantly). But with that security I can, and I should, let the law and the Lord's providence speak to my flesh. It is no denial of the gospel to accept that my sins have consequences—consequences that I feel in this world. And God is speaking through those hardships to bring a Father's discipline.

It's true that in the midst of suffering many Christians can lose themselves in superstition, extreme scrupulosity and introspection. After the hardship hits they become convinced: "I know why this happened..." and then they name a certain sin from their past. Maybe they correctly identify the cause. Probably they don't. But anyway it's the wrong question. Because the goal is not to figure out how to avoid the Lord's discipline. The goal is to learn from it, because everyone is disciplined. It's a case of 'playing the ball where it lies' to use a golfing analogy. And to hear what the Lord is saying in the midst of the hardship.

So bring to mind a hardship right now. Your circumstances are not random and you are not alone. There is a Father's loving purpose woven into the details of your life—even, and especially, the difficult ones. Christ has brought you through the Red Sea in baptism, he accompanies you in the fiery-cloudy pillar of his Spirit, he feeds you with the daily bread of his word and all of it is motivated by relentless, unbreakable, redeeming love:

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

— Deuteronomy 8:2-5


We've been talking about preaching that cuts like a hammer. Such preaching has an impact, but it's not incisive, it's blunt. There's a power to it but it's also vague and leaves you feeling battered.

Last time we saw two problems: firstly, a failure to distinguish law and gospel (and to properly preach the latter); and secondly, a falling between two stools when it comes to the third use of the law. Cuts-like-a-hammer preachers kind of believe the law applies to Christians but they kind of don't too. So they preach (vague) advice to the Christian (3rd use-ish) but in more of a guilt-inducing way (2nd use-ish). Instead of judicially pronouncing death for sin, the preacher 'steps on our toes' for failures of discipleship. And it all cuts like a hammer. For more, read the previous article. But here I want to press into a crucial third distinction that we must understand...

The Flesh and the Spirit

This line from Luther's commentary on Galatians 2:17 is transformative if we grasp it.

"Get things straight. You let the Law talk to your conscience. Make it talk to your flesh."

(For more pearls from Luther's commentary see my collection here)

This discernment between flesh and conscience (or flesh and Spirit) is the very heart of the Christian life, of all pastoral wisdom, and it must inform our preaching. Let me explain.

The realm of the flesh is Adam's—a realm of weakness, folly, suffering, sin, law, and consequences. All of us are born into this realm, it is our natural state. But also—here's a crucial truth to acknowledge—we remain in the flesh even after we're born again by the Spirit.

That is made clear by Paul just three verses later:

I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Christ came into our world of the flesh (John 1:14), taking on our human nature. On the cross he even took our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Having taken us to himself, Jesus died our death. Shielding us in his own body, he bore the wrath, curse and condemnation our Adamic lives deserve. He then crashed through to the other side of death, sin and wrath. He stands again on the far side of curse and condemnation: risen; vindicated; glorified. By the Spirit we have been united to Christ and now his curse-bearing death counts as ours.

So then, in Christ I am crucified to the old realm, and at the same time I live in this Adamic world. Galatians 2:20 is very clear about that. Though I have Christ's Spirit, until resurrection I remain in Adam's flesh. And here's the central point of this post: the law totally applies to my flesh.

Law and the-old-world-order and the flesh and consequences all go together. And while I live far above these realities by the Spirit and in Christ, I live slap-bang in these realities according to the flesh. The law does not define my standing with God, it does not grant me any righteousness of my own, it does not condemn me before heaven and it cannot actually achieve in me the holiness it commands. But it is God's good life proclaimed to me, it is 'holy, righteous and just' (Romans 7:12) and it absolutely applies to Adam's flesh and Adam's world. Which is where I live till Christ returns. So while the law can never tell my conscience "You have sinned yourself out of God's love." The law can—and must!—speak to my flesh to say 'No, that stuff is death, and you're dead to it'. 

Once we make this Spirit / flesh distinction it frees the preacher to return to that first distinction: law and gospel. We can preach the text, applying it to the Christian, exploring its details, letting it bite, calling for repentance in specifics, letting conviction fall where it may, and—this is crucial—proclaiming the perfect obedience of Jesus, his sin-bearing death, his resurrection-righteousness and his priestly intercession for us, sinners that we are.

To those in the flesh, the preacher gives it both barrels—the law that kills and the life-giving gospel: "the Son of God loved you and gave himself for you." And to the degree we're assured of a life-giving gospel, we will be able to press into our sin and failures without self-protection or self-justification. We can let the law talk to our flesh.

Or else, just preach a random assortment of commands, examples and doctrines and instead of 'killing and making alive', just tread on some toes before saying 'Tricky, isn't it? Let's pray for God's help.' But that kind of preaching is a slow and painful death. It cuts like a hammer.

Stay tuned for one more post of this series where I'll apply these distinctions to another area of the Christian life: our experience of God's discipline.


This was the way an American visitor described to me the preaching he'd heard across many UK churches: "It cuts like a hammer."

This is not how cuts are meant to be made, nor how preaching should feel. But there was something about the description that rang true. Have you heard preaching that 'cuts like a hammer'? I have.

Cuts are meant to be precise. The preaching this visitor heard, though, was occasionally forceful but rarely targeted. There was a kind of power but it was not incisive. The Bible's commands and examples were preached but the effect was merely to convict the hearer of a generic sinfulness—an ill-defined but pressing sense of unworthiness.

I recognise the dynamic. And I think I know some of its drivers. To uncover them I need to use a few key terms over a number of posts. First we'll think about the 'law and gospel distinction', then we'll think of the different uses of the law. In a future post we'll press into a third distinction: the difference between flesh and Spirit. In short, I'll argue that cuts-like-a-hammer preaching mashes up the first distinction, fudges the second and seems oblivious to the third.

Law and Gospel

The law and gospel distinction is the sort of thing laid out in Galatians 3 or 2 Corinthians 3-4. There Paul contrasts the promise and the law; the gift and the command; the Spirit and the letter — one brings life, the other brings death. Luther summarises it in the introduction to his Romans commentary:

“The law uncovers sin; it makes the sinner guilty and sick; indeed, it proves him to be under condemnation... The gospel offers grace and forgives sin; it cures the sickness and leads to salvation."

These are different ways the word strikes us. In command-mode, God says "You must" and the aim is obedience. In promise-mode, God says "I will" and the aim is trust. Of course the two cannot be divorced (obedience arises from faith, after all, Romans 1:4), but they should not be confused either. The trouble is, they are very commonly confused. It's what Mike Horton calls "golawspel."

When the point of the sermon is simply explaining the next ten verses of Philippians everything is given the same weighting, purpose and tone. The victory of Jesus may well be referenced (or assumed, it's rarely preached), and the law is likewise brought, but not too heavily or specifically because we're aware of the dangers of legalism. Our antidote to legalism, however, is not a life-giving gospel raising us from the dead. Instead preachers give a generalised, "Gosh, it's tough isn't it? I struggle with this (in non-specific ways), don't you? Let's pray for the Spirit's help." It's golawspel. And it cuts like a hammer.

The Three Uses of the Law

Classically the three uses of the law are described as a curb (its civil use), a mirror (its theological use), and a guide (its pedagogical/teaching use).

So the law brings...

...order in the world,

...conviction to the sinner, driving them to Christ, and,

...guidance to the Christian, (though only the gospel can empower such obedience).

The preaching that 'cuts like a hammer' tends to have an ambivalent attitude to the third use of the law. It kind of believes that the law can teach us the good life. Certainly such preachers have no problem deriving 'applications' from their texts — "What this means for Monday morning, etc, etc." But these applications fall along well-worn lines (Bible reading, prayer, evangelism) that bear little relationship with the actual commands and examples of the text.

Such mid-level guilt is actually surprisingly popular. The praise of choice from congregants meeting the preacher at the door is still: "Thank you, that was faithful, clear, and challenging." That's the chilli sauce we like to have on our biblical expositions: application—challenging application. We like to put ourselves under the word, to bear its burden and accept its heavy weight, then we've done business with God.

In effect, such preaching falls between two stools. It avoids getting too specific in its 'third use'  applications and it avoids being too condemning in its 'second use' proclamations, so it ends up just making people feel quite guilty about their Bible reading, prayer and evangelism. It cuts like a hammer.

Next time we'll look at a third distinction: between the flesh and the Spirit. But for now, do you recognise the 'cuts like a hammer' stereotype? What do you think drives it?


I once preached in a pub. There was a gospel choir giving a concert and I said a few words here and there. While the choir was doing its thing I spotted a pretty young blonde in the crowd eyeing up the female conductor with weapons grade jealousy — a mixture of awe, scorn and terrified confusion. The conductor was dancing away, clapping and singing, leading the choir in joyful praise. The blonde looked like she just about remembered smiling, back before she renounced sudden facial movements for the sake of her plastic beauty.  Anyway, it prompted this poem:


Plaintive, Platinum, Pained
Caked in make up,
faked up, furtive,
Birdlike watching,
wild-eyed, wondring how she's watched.

Faintly feeble, restless, regal,
perched in peerless poses,
None opposes,
Female poseurs all faced-down.
No finer found
than she.
And she knows it.

Yet on this day, a blaze is lit, to flit
Upon her plastic face.  New radiant grace
descends to offend. To bend and afflict her.
Slight frowns a-flicker.
Scowls unfurl.
Lips now curl.
For here a foreign fire is set upon her world.

Another sun is risen.
Unbidden.  And previously hidden.
She hasn't sought the room's permission.
And yet she stands four square, bare foot and laughing,
Leading, clapping, stamping, shouting.
Tangled hair and hands upraised,
God praised in ways unfazed
by inhibition.

At once the made-up beauty gapes. Envy's swirled.
There's longing there, in her stare.  And rage.
And awe and shame and scorn.
This light has dawned
from another age. A distant world.

The light, for her, was meant to fall,
and she to catch its rays,
in dappled hues upon her face.
She had not thought at all
That she was meant to blaze.

But then, what Force could ever source such light?
To call it mine and free-forgetful shine.
Much safer to take flight, flee to flattering night,
ever minding others' sight.
And yet true beauty will endure,
she stands secure,
first captured by a fierce delight,
And tunes our hearts to Joy's invite.



We want community and we want inclusion. But how do we have both?

Because a community is not a random collective. A community is a unity. And it's unified around something or towards something. Sometimes it's united against something. Better if it's united for something. But whatever the principle of unity there is an inner logic or goal or ethos or context or journey that binds us together.

It seems patently obvious that whatever this principle of unity is, it cannot itself be "inclusion". If all you have is a principle of inclusion you don't actually have a community. As we invite people to "Climb aboard" we might want to insist "All welcome, whoever you are, come along for the ride!" but we'll be clear that this is a ride and it's heading somewhere. What we won't do is scoop up bystanders and include them quite apart from their commitment to the journey. Nor will we immediately put newcomers in the driver's seat without a clear indication that they want to go where we want to go. That would not be good for the community and it would not be good for the newcomer.

Here is Rowan Williams on why language of "inclusion" might not be good for the community:

“I don't believe inclusion is a value in itself. Welcome is. We don't say 'Come in and we ask no questions'. I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions. The boundaries are determined by what it means to be loyal to Jesus Christ.”

The community we want to include people into is already bounded by certain principles, centred on certain belief, heading in certain directions. Those outside the community are very welcome, but they're welcome like house guests are welcome. There is already an ordering to the house and guests knocking through load-bearing walls is not good for the community.

Nor is it good for the newcomer.

This is Jordan Peterson's point here as he insists that we should not simply affirm people's self-declared identities. We need communities to contradict our individual identities. If we don't have that, we go insane.

I've transcribed his 3 minutes below, but it's worth a watch:

If the world is required to validate your identity you are done for. And the reason for that is that every single one of you have a pathological direction in which you are likely to go. And that’s because every temperamental virtue comes with a temperamental vice. You think you’re sane. You’re not. You’re not even close. If I put you alone in a cave for two weeks you’d be done. You can’t be sane on your own.

So what happens is that your parents, if they have any sense, train you, roughly speaking, to be vaguely acceptable to other people. They keep nudging and winking at you every time you’re a moron so that you get nudged into something approximating acceptable. And you’re clued in enough to pay attention so that if someone raises an eye brown or doesn’t find your joke funny, (or something rather subtle like that), you immediately revise your identity. And we are always nudging each other and revising each other non-stop - exchanging information about how to stay sane.

And if I'm forced into a position where I have to validate your identity? What if your identity is wrong? What if it’s pathological? What if it doesn’t serve you well? And I start validating you... Do you think I'm your friend. I'm not your friend at all. I'm a mirror for your narcissism. And you will disappear and drown.

I see this happening all the time with people. If you’re fortunate you are surrounded by people who like you now and wish you’d be a little better. And they’ll let you know when you’re failing on that. You don’t even have to think that much, all you have to do is watch. Is this person rolling their eyes at you? (That’s a bad one. That means divorce by the way, when you get to the eye rolling stage. That’s not good.)

But basically you're fortunate that people don’t validate your damn identity. What makes you think you’ve got your identity figured out? You’re really complicated and you’re clueless as hell about it. Because you can’t represent yourself entirely. You’re the most complicated thing that exists. How are you going to come up with an accurate definition of your identity. You’ve got a hundred people out there helping you out if you’ve got any sense. If you’re vaguely tolerable. They’re kind of hinting at you not only what you are but also what you might become. Then you should welcome invalidation of your identity.

Now if they’re malicious well then that's a different story. But it’s not that easy to separate out accurate criticism, especially if it hits you right where it hurts which is when you’re wrong. You can’t separate that out from maliciousness or hate speech… good luck.

You never learn anything without pain. And often, when you receive a piece of corrective information from someone, if you could throw that person in jail you would. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

Inclusion in the abstract is not a value to aspire to. Welcome? Yes please. "Come to the waters all you who thirst?" Amen. But as each of us come we leave our self-determined identities at the door. In coming we are submitting to the community - a community that will keep us sane if only we let it invalidate our most cherished identities and re-form us as children of God.



Want the gospel to go forwards? Lock your church doors.

Here's Vishal Mangalwadi on how the gospel transformed church and culture at the time of the reformation:

Before the Reformation, Roman Catholic Churches were open seven days a week in Holland. The devout went to the church whenever they wanted to meet with God. They would light their candles, kneel, and pray. After the Reformation, the Church leaders decided to lock their churches on Sunday nights. Not because they became less religious, but because they became more religious.

Reformers learned from the Bible that the church was not the only place to meet with God. If God had called you to be a woodcutter, then on Monday morning you ought to meet with God in the forest. If he had called you to be a shoemaker, then on Monday morning he expected you to meet with him on the work bench. If he had called you to be a homemaker, you needed to serve God while taking care of your window plants. (From The Book That Made Your World)

Whenever the gospel is on mute, people will hover around the church, desperate to keep the delicate flame of faith alive. They'll come and "do their bit", light their candle, keep up their devotional practices. The church provides their holiness perch and they're desperate to stay on top of it. Needless to say, the mission of the church is paralysed by such thinking.

But the gospel actually means locking the doors of your church. It tells us: "You are not on a holiness perch, you are in Christ. You are sent. You walk in Him into your true calling. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." And so the mission of the church is served by shutting its doors.

Of course, five centuries on from the reformation we still find many reasons to keep our doors open. There are protestant "candles" we feel we must light. And the missionary flow we endorse runs dry so quickly.

This goes deeper than a scheduling problem. It's not just solved by resolving to hold fewer midweek meetings. It took a reformation to shift the practice of those Dutch churches and it will take a reformation of our own churches to shift our mindset. It's more than a question of administratively releasing people. Are we spiritually releasing them? Do we preach the kind of gospel that liberates our people? Can we genuinely say to them "Go in peace" because we've given them profound gospel confidence? Can we lock the door after them and say "Enjoy! Create! Serve! Love! Share! Be blessed in Christ! See you next week!"?

Or will we keep our doors open, running a thousand church activities and then wondering why no-one has any deep friendships with non-Christians?

On the basis of Christ's gospel and for the sake of His mission, let's lock our church doors.



Listen (and subscribe!) to the Evangelists Podcast where I elaborate on all these points...

What is Pentecost?

In the Jewish calendar (see Leviticus 23), Pentecost is the "Feast of Weeks". It's held 50 days after "Firstfruits." At "Firstfruits" you have tasted the goodness of the coming crop. At "Pentecost" the harvest comes in.

In the New Testament, Jesus rose on the day of "Firstfruits". He was the Seed who went into the ground (on Good Friday) and came up again (on Easter Sunday). His new life guarantees a rich harvest of resurrection.

The first ever Pentecost happened in Exodus - 50 days after the Israelites came out of Egypt. On that day Moses came down from the mountain with the law and he judged idolatrous Israel. 3000 people died on that first Pentecost. In Acts 2, the Spirit comes down from on high and brings life - on that day 3000 people are reborn!


What does Acts 2 teach us about the Spirit?

The Spirit comes through the Word - especially preached. (v14ff)

The Spirit is associated with the last days (v17).

The Spirit is the triune life of God poured out (v33).

The Spirit is a gift for the unworthy (v38).


What does the rest of the Bible teach about the Holy Spirit?

The Spirit is the LIFE of God.

The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. (Job 33:4)

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:63)

Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

If Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10)

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)



What does the Spirit do in the life of God?

1. He joyfully declares the Father's overflowing love:

You are my Son who I love, with you I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:16-17)

2. He joyfully declares the Son's glad dependence:

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. (Luke 10:21)


3. He gives life to the Son

Through the Spirit of holiness [Jesus] was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).



What does the Spirit do in our life?

1. He joyfully declares the Father's overflowing love to us:

God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)


2. He joyfully declares our love as sons back to the Father:

The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ (Romans 8:15)


3. He gives life to us 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)


Everything that the Spirit is in God's life, He becomes in our life! The Spirit sweeps us up into the Son's communion with the Father. By Him we "participate in the divine nature"! (2 Peter 1:4)


How do we get the Spirit wrong?

The three main trinitarian heresies all have implications for how we see the Spirit:

Arianism: The Spirit is a non-Person.

Here we see the Spirit as an It, Force, an abstract Power.

Modalism: The Spirit is the same Person (as the Son / Father)

Here we forget that the Spirit unites us to Jesus and brings us before the Father. Instead modalists (eg Oneness Pentecostals) imagine that we have an unmediated relationship with God (undifferentiated). That's not the gospel!

Tritheism: The Spirit is a detached Person

Here we think of the Spirit as another source of blessing. We imagine that we can have some blessings from Jesus but we need to go to this other power called the Spirit to get certain blessings.

If we keep looking to Jesus we won't go too far wrong!


What does this mean for our Christian walk?

Let's pray for the Spirit Himself (not just His fruit). But let's come to Jesus to know the Spirit - there's no other Way.

Let's be Spirit-filled which means...

centred on Jesus,

obsessed by the word,

overflowing with words of our own,

walking by faith not works,

trusting Christ not our flesh,

looking to the future when the Spirit will raise not only us but the whole world. Then even the deserts will bloom.

The Spirit [will be] poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. (Isaiah 32:15)




Haven't blogged in ages, so let me catch you up on some of what I've been doing...

Did you see our Christmas video?


And Easter?


Recently I was invited to the Yorkshire Gospel Partnership to talk about glorification.

I spoke of our past, present and future in God's glorious life.




I also did a Q&A session about evangelism, preaching and other mini-rants.

See their page for other brilliant talks from Mike Reeves, Sam Allberry, Richard Coekin, Christopher Ash, Don Carson and many more.


Here are two Easter talks at St Stephen's Selly Park: Love Story (John 13:1-17) and Life Story (John 20:24-31).


Durham University Mission (STORY)


Real Lives with St Mary's Maidenhead.

Go here to get individual mp3s of the interviews and talks.



As I prepare a sermon on Revelation 1 for this weekend it strikes me that three lessons from this chapter should be followed by any would-be interpreter.

1. The Bible interprets the Bible

Not the newspapers. Not modern resonances. There's a reason Revelation comes at the end of the Scriptures. It picks up and weaves together themes and allusions from every other biblical book. We don't need to go outside the Scriptures to interpret them. Very often we don't need to go outside the chapter. Stick to the Bible. The Bible will interpret the Bible.

2. The context is suffering

In particular it's the suffering of John, the seven churches of Asia and the other witnesses to Christ known to John. The context is not comfortable 21st century theorists, but suffering believers. And in the first instance, they are believers of the 1st century who need comfort there and then. If they somehow thought that the kings of Revelation 17 were the EU, how exactly would that be a comfort? And how would that be a comfort to the millions of non-western believers today suffering for their faith?

3. The point is Christ

It's the Revelation of Jesus Christ, not the Revelation of eschatological timetables. Jesus is the centre. Focus on Him and His comfort in suffering and you won't go too far wrong.



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