This post first appeared at The Gospel Project blog.
We Are All Prideful, Aren’t We?
We all struggle with pride. It is a perpetual nagging temptation. Pride is what causes us to connect every experience and every conversation with ourselves. In a sense, pride is the sin beneath every other sin because at its core, pride is self-worship. What makes pride so dangerous is that it can be subtle, perverse, and sometimes undetectable.
Certainly there are people whose pride exudes from them as if it were a badge of honor. In some cases, this happens unknowingly. Pride has very effective ways of blinding self-awareness. And there are others who proclaim their humility by complaining about (or condemning) prideful people. How prideful! Even those who seem to be the least prideful of people—people quietly paralyzed by low self-esteem, anxiety, and worry—can actually be full of pride. To echo the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:24, what wretched men we are!
What Can We Do About Our Pride?
Feel exposed yet? Good. As long as you know that you are proud, you are safe from the most subtle form of pride. The first step of fighting pride is to realize that you are proud. And since pride and humility are direct opposites (Prov. 16:19; 29:23), shouldn’t we aim for humility? Yes, but this is not as simple as it seems. As C.S. Lewis once put it, “A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of humility” (Christian Reflections). In other words, it is possible to adopt an outward demeanor of humility while burning with pride on the inside.
In order to develop true humility we need to take the focus off of ourselves entirely because true humility means we stop connecting every experience and every conversation with ourselves. To put it another way, Tim Keller says that the “… essence of humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). And the only way to take the focus off ourselves is to be totally enraptured by something else.
How Can the Cross Deal with Our Pride?
To break our pride is to fix our eyes on God and bask in His beauty and splendor (Ps. 27:4). As long as someone is proud, they cannot know or love God (Ps. 10:4). True humility is the necessary condition of not only seeing God but also accepting His grace in Christ Jesus. No one stands before God looking down through their nose. Certainly, no Christian stands at the foot of the cross with their chest puffed out.
Before God we all, like Abraham, realize that we are mere “dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). We have nothing to be proud of. This gives us the deep humility we need. Yet, on the other hand, we also realize that in Christ God accepts us and loves us on the basis of His perfect life and sacrificial death. These truths crucify any reason for pride, as if we had one in the first place.
Hope for the Humble
Seeing that we can only boast in Christ—and in Christ alone—gives us hope (2 Cor. 10:17; Gal. 6:14). The Bible is clear: God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34; Jas. 4:6). So, one of the best ways to fight pride is to reflect continually on one’s true position before God, namely, as a dependent child (Matt. 5:3-5; 18:1-4). We are dependent on Christ and on what He has done on our behalf (Matt. 20:28; Rom. 5:7,10). The good news is that Christ’s work is perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Even better, we have a Father who loves us dearly.
See, proud people rely on themselves, and seek their own glory. Humble people realize they are reliant on God, and in response to His love, they seek to live for His glory. Pride gives us the deadly illusion that we are competent to run our lives, attain our sense of worth, and find purpose or meaning on our own. However, pride ends in a fall (Prov. 29:23). On the other hand, “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matt. 5:3).
This review first appeared on The Gospel Coalition.
This is the golden age of publishing books that are gospel-centered. And rightly so. Very few Christians would doubt that the gospel should be central to the spiritual formation of individuals and at the center of the church as a kingdom community. There is no arena of life outside the purview of the gospel; there is no area of life the gospel does not speak to. Therefore, Christians should make it their habit to reflect on the good news of the gospel deeply and often.
C. S. Lewis once pointed out that the danger for many Christians is that long exposure to the miraculous truths of God’s Word can eventually become commonplace. The gospel is “the old, old story,” but it should never feel like “the same ol’ story.” The good news that saves you is also the good news that sustains you throughout your Christian journey. As J. A. Medders writes in the opening pages of his new book Gospel Formed: Living a Grace-Addicted, Truth-Filled, Jesus-Exalting Life, “We grow by the gospel, we grow in the gospel, and we grow with the gospel.”
For this reason we should welcome voices that help us re-angle the light of the multifaceted gospel to shine on our hearts in a fresh way. Jesus’s declaration that “it is finished” should echo off every corner of our lives in perpetuity. Medders, lead pastor of Redeemer Church in Tomball, Texas, is a trustworthy guide in helping us meditate long and hard on what it means to, as his subtitle states, live a grace-addicted, truth-filled, Jesus-exalting life.
The best way to approach this book is to take your time. This is how it’s intended to be read. While you could speed through it quickly, it’s best to let each chapter stand alone as part of the journey.
In the introduction Medders shares his personal correspondence with some of the most respected living scholars, pastors, and writers on the question “what is gospel-centeredness?” Reading Jerry Bridges, Matt Chandler, Sam Storms, Doug Wilson, Russell Moore, and others explain their understanding of gospel-centeredness is a nice addition to this book. From there, Medders lays the groundwork for the gospel-centered mediations that follow. “The gospel, Jesus’s death and resurrection for our sins, is our starting block and our anchor and our wings,” Medders makes clear. “The gospel is our center, our core, our fuel. It’s our framework for understanding reality.” The bulk of Gospel Formedis centered on four questions:
- What is gospel worship? Gospel worship is glorifying God in all of life in light of, in acceptance with, motivated by, and empowered by the gospel of grace. Gospel worship is living in response to the gospel in spirit and in truth.
- What is gospel identity? Gospel identity is discovering the Christian’s meaning, purpose, acceptance with God, and position in the universe based on our union with Christ. Gospel identity is first, foremost, and always that we are “in Christ”.
- What is gospel community? Gospel community is a group of Christians encountering and exhorting each other to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Gospel community is the people of God living out the gospel ethics of the kingdom of God.
- What is gospel mission? Gospel mission is the call and commitment to spread the good news of gospel grace to all kinds of people in all kinds of places. Gospel mission is the spread of the name and fame of Jesus by means of gospel proclamation.
Each chapter in Gospel Formed is framed with a Bible verse or passage, and the meditations throughout each chapter are sprinkled with God’s Word. Simply put, the whole volume is saturated with the Bible. In every chapter Medders helps the reader linger on the perfect life of Christ, the bloodstained cross, the victorious empty tomb, and our beautiful King who reins forevermore. As I slowly worked through Gospel Formed, I often found myself in joyful exultation, proclaiming “Yes, that is good news!”
Medders’s goal is clear: he aims to serve the readers in the worship of God. At its heart, the book is written in a warm devotional tone. His punchy, poignant, and often funny prose is reminiscent of Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, with a fresh enthusiasm that adds to the enjoyment of the reader’s experience. It’s not often that one can find a book that treats the precious doctrines of our ancient faith with language that today’s blue-collar Christian can fully grasp. But Medders accomplishes this well. This is the kind of book you can hand to new Christians who need to understand the heart behind soteriology, ecclesiology, and missiology. And this is the kind of book you can hand to old saints who need to experience the depths of soteriology, ecclesiology, and missiology in a renewed way.
It is a difficult thing to communicate such deep truths without being dry. The simplicity of Gospel Formed is deceptive since you will often find yourself reflecting deeply on the truths of theology long after you put it down. I wholeheartedly welcome this volume into the expanding collection of works that advance the cause of gospel-centeredness in the church today. As Russell Moore remarked, “If the gospel has become something routine to you, not the kind of news that lights up a Galilean sky with angels, read this book with expectation. . . . [Medders’s] enthusiasm can shake you out of routine toward glory.”
This past Sunday at The Fellowship we started a sermon series exploring our vision as a church: “We will do whatever it takes to make disciples of Jesus Christ who gather, grow, and go.” This sermon on gathering is by Philip Nation.
Over the weekend Thom Rainer presented 15 trends for the church for 2015. They are presented in reverse order of their potential magnitude. His predictions are below:
15. A rapid increase in bi-vocational church staff. We have noted the growing trend of bi-vocational pastors. We will see in 2015 an accelerated trend of other church staff becoming bi-vocational.
14. The tipping point of churches eliminating Sunday evening worship services. We see the number of U. S. churches offering a Sunday evening service to dip below 5 percent of all churches in America. In other words, this service will become almost extinct.
13. More emphasis on congregational singing. In many of our churches, both traditional and contemporary, you can hardly hear the congregation sing. There will be an increased emphasis on intentionally bringing the congregants into worship through singing.
12. Growth of verbal incarnational evangelism. Incarnational evangelism is simply defined as presenting the good news through our Christ-like lifestyle to non-believers. There will be an increased emphasis to share the gospel verbally as well as demonstrating a gospel witness through our lifestyle.
11. The waning and reconfiguration of denominational structures. This trend is already taking place, but it will accelerate in 2015. Denominational structures will continue to get smaller and more streamlined, and churches will not be able to expect the same type of resources they have received in the past.
10. Congregations growing in favor in their respective communities. Churches are transitioning from being an island in the midst of their communities to being a real and positive presence. As church members seek to serve their communities in a plethora of ways, the communities will see these churches more as valued partners.
9. Continued flow of people from smaller churches to larger churches. There will be a continued increase in the number of attendees in churches with an average worship attendance of 1,000 and larger. Churches with an attendance of 400 to 999 will be collectively stable in attendance. And the number of people attending church in congregations with an attendance under 400 will decline.
8. More partnerships between denominations and churches. Of course, not all churches belong to a denomination. For those that do, denominational entities typically created the resource or mission opportunity and churches would follow their lead. In 2015 we will see more “bottom up” partnerships, meaning that churches lead the partnerships, but denominations participate in them. That is particularly true for seminaries. That issue is thus a separate trend, noted in the number 7.
7. More focus on theological education in local churches. I am not among the pundits who believe that seminaries will become extinct. They still have a vital role for training ministers. I do see, however, a continued shift for more theological education taking place in local congregations. The successful seminaries in the upcoming years will seek to partner with churches rather than compete with them.
6. The tipping point for a plurality of teaching pastors. In the recent past, churches that had more than one regular preacher or teaching pastor were an anomaly, and they were usually very large churches. In 2015 multiple teaching pastors will become normative, and they will be pervasive in smaller churches as well.
5. Continued increased in the number of multi-site churches. Two years ago, the multi-site movement in America reached a tipping point. Their growth will continue unabated in 2015.
4. The beginnings of prayer movement in our churches. I am seeing the growth of more and more organizations dedicated to prayer in the local church. I am observing this passion become a greater emphasis with pastors, particularly Millennial pastors.
3. The tipping point for small groups. The evidence for the efficacy of small groups in the local church is too overwhelming to be ignored. I see a new movement of “groups” taking place that will be similar in growth as the Sunday school movement was in the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century.
2. Increased difficulty in matching prospective pastors with churches with pastoral vacancies.This trend is growing and frustrating to both pastors and those in churches seeking pastors. It is particularly frustrating for those churches that use the pastoral search committee model. I will not be surprised to see that model begin to change in 2015.
1. Smaller worship gatherings. The era of the large worship gathering is waning. Churches that are growing will likely do so through multiple services, multiple venues, and multiple sites. This trend will accelerate through the growing influence of Gen X and the Millennials.
In 1854, Charles Spurgeon preached a Christmas Eve sermon on Isaiah 7:14-15. A portion of that sermon has been turned into this video. You can read the whole sermon here.
Today, December 16th, a panel of Christian leaders will gather at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee to discuss race, the church, and what we can do from here. The Lorraine Motel is a significant location for this event. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed at the Lorraine Motel. Today, it is the National Civil Rights Museum in the United States and will be the host for this event.
Here’s a brief explanation from the event’s organizer, Pastor Bryan Loritts:
“We want to boldy declare there is hope…The grand jury’s decision not to indict the officers involved in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown has left many in our nation angry, saddened and hopeless…The fact that such heart-wrenching decisions have taken place some 50 years after the civil rights movement have left the children of those who marched in such places as Birmingham and Selma wondering if justice has not only been delayed, but has she finally and permanently been denied.”
A number of well-known Christian leaders will aim to bring their wisdom and love for the gospel in this discussion panel. As Ed Stetzer has said, “We want to listen well, dialogue on the issues, and point to Jesus.” Here are the pastors and leaders slated to take part in this discussion:
- Bryan Loritts, pastor of Fellowship Memphis
- Trillia Newbell, writer and author
- Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Dallas-Fort Worth
- Darrin Patrick, pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis
- Eric Mason, pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia
- John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary
- Thabiti Anyabwile, assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
- Voddie Baucham, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas
- Albert Tate, pastor of Fellowship Monrovia in Monrovia, California
- Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina
The event is not open to the public, due to our location and our limited time there, but anyone can watch online on Tuesday afternoon from 4pm to 6pm CT (5pm to 7pm ET). It is expected to be widely viewed and discussed – so join in. The discussion will be honest and Christlike, and the hope of the panelists is that the viewers will benefit from their time together.