Monthly Archives: June 2012

Should We Lead Someone To Pray The Sinner’s Prayer?

This last week the Southern Baptist Convention debated the legitimacy of leading people to pray the sinner’s prayer for salvation. The scenario is a familiar one: at the end of a service every head is bowed, every eye is closed, and no one is looking around. Then the preacher will typically ask any who are not Christians to pray this simple pray after him: “Dear God, I know I’m a sinner.  I know my sin deserves to be punished.  I believe Christ died for me and rose from the grave.  I trust Jesus alone as my Savior.  Thank you for the forgiveness and everlasting life I now have.  In Jesus’ name, amen.” The preacher says that if you prayed that prayer and really meant it, you are now saved.

Here are a few reasons why I think it’s generally unwise for churches and individual Christians to utilize the Sinner’s Prayer in evangelism:

(1) There’s no example of it anywhere in Scripture. We’re told conversion stories of individuals and stories of thousands coming to Christ at once, but are never given one example of someone praying the Sinner’s Prayer. Indeed, when asked what one must do to be saved, Peter answers “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). In other words, turn from your sin and follow Christ. We see lots of people getting saved in the Bible, but no Sinner’s Prayer.

(2) It is too easy for people to believe that the prayer saved them. We must be clear–the prayer does not save them. Christ saves them by faith alone. How many countless unregenerate people claim to be Christians because they “prayed a prayer” or “asked Jesus into their hearts?” Many modern evangelicals have come to the place where they sincerely believe that praying the prayer or saying certain words will save someone. Thus, the goal of evangelism becomes getting someone to “repeat after me” or “pray this simple prayer.” Perhaps David Platt is right–it’s almost superstitious. The words don’t save. Jesus saves through faith alone.

(3) We run the risk of communicating that those who have not prayed this type of prayer are not saved. The thief on the cross did not pray a prayer and yet Jesus assured him that he would be in paradise. In Acts 2 Peter tells the crowd not to “pray the sinners prayer,” but to turn from their sin and follow Christ. In Acts 16 Paul says the same. Do modern Christians believe there is such a thing as someone who is a Christian who did not pray this kind of prayer?

I recently heard the testimony of someone who freely admitted that he had never prayed this sort of prayer, but seemed to evidence being a true disciple of Christ. He recognized the sinfulness of his sin, he was trusting in Christ alone to save him from it, and the fruit of his life was evidencing his discipleship. Is this ok with modern Christians? To be clear–it seems that the vast majority of the time, conversion will be coupled with praying. Frankly this only makes sense. If there’s a conscience recognition of sin and a commitment to turn in faith to Christ for forgiveness, it’s natural that this will issue in prayer. Indeed, it’s a good thing to encourage people in this position to call out to God–to pray. And yet, sometimes, like the thief on the cross, people believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and there is no prayer. One thinks of C.S. Lewis’ testimony of conversion: “I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade [Zoo} one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”

(4) The hope of our assurance does not lie in a prayer we prayed. If someone asks “how do you know you are saved?” we will admit our own sin and damnation before a holy God and yet testify of our dependence upon the gracious work of Christ in granting us forgiveness and reconciling us to our Father. But if someone asks how they can know for sure they are saved, we must not ask “Has there ever been a time in your life when you asked Jesus to come into your heart?” There may have been a time (or many times!) where they have done that, but that’s not the point. The point is, have they bowed their knee in repentant faith to King Jesus? How much better to ask a question like, “What are you trusting in right now to save you? Who are you trusting, treasuring, and relying on for eternity?”

In short, we are leading people to a Person, not a prayer.  


Rain for Roots: Big Stories for Little Ones

Sally Lloyd-Jones has written a fantastic resource for Christian parents in The Jesus Storybook Bible. It’s essentially a Biblical theology for young children, showing how underneath all the stories of the Bible is the one Story about the Rescuer, Jesus. The book is an absolute delight to read–even for adults!

That’s why it’s such good news that Sally Lloyd-Jones has written songs based off these stories that communicate the same theme. These songs have been recorded by four mothers who are singers and songwriters. The result is a simple, beautiful little album that communicates the truth of the Story to little children by showing them how other Biblical stories “whisper his name.” The album is entitled Rain For Roots: Big Stories for Little Ones and you can sample the songs here.

I’m praying the good news of one of the songs in particular works its way deep into my little girls’ hearts:

Who died, but came alive again?
Who came to rescue you and win?
Who came to make all things brand new
Who did it all for love of you?
Who did this all for love of you?

Chorus: So sing and dance and leap and run
His name is Jesus, little one.
Sing and dance and leap and run.
His name is Jesus, little one

Tyranny of the “Theys”

Here’s some great advice for those in leadership positions.

Leadership-oriented teams don’t succumb to the tyranny of the “theys.” When I came to North Coast, our board leaned heavily to the representative side of the scale. As a result, whenever we dealt with a controversial issue, we spent a great deal of time discussing an apparently large and influential group of people known as “they.” No one seemed to know who they were, and those who did seem to know weren’t too keen on identifying them. But boy, did they have clout. It seemed to me that they were the largest power block in the church. As a result, before making decisions, we spent hours worrying how “they” might respond. And afterward, we second-guessed ourselves whenever someone reported, “I’ve been talking to some people about this, and they have some real concerns.” To make matters worse, I could never find out who “they” were, or how many of them there were. It was strange. For a group as large and powerful as they appeared to be, they sure valued their anonymity. Finally, I’d had enough. I told the board that as far as I was concerned, the “theys” no longer existed. I’d happily listen to comments and critiques from people with real names and faces. But nebulous theys who didn’t want their identity known and hypothetical theys we couldn’t identify would no longer have any sway. The board agreed. So we instituted a “no theys” rule. It immediately pulled the rug out from underneath the biggest group of resisters we had and eventually exposed them to be a tiny minority (and at times, a mere figment of our imagination). Our “no theys” rule applies not only to the board; it also applies to every staff meeting and to all of my dealings with the congregation. Now whenever someone says that they’ve been talking to some people who have a concern, I always ask, “Who are they?” If I’m told that they wouldn’t be comfortable having their names mentioned, I respond, “That’s too bad, because I’m not comfortable listening to anonymous sources. Let me know when they’re willing to be identified. I’ll be happy to listen.”

Osborne, Larry. Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Teams and Staff On The Same Page. HT: Jamie Bickel

True Grit vs Amazing Grace

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. ~Titus 2:11-12

For many years I functionally operated under the unhappy assumption that while God had miraculously and gloriously saved me by an utter act of His grace; that I was basically on my own in my spiritual growth. I had not grasped the truth of Titus 2: Christians are recipients of both saving grace and training grace. This grace teaches us to say no to sin and yes to godliness. The word used in verse 12 is pedagogue which is where we get our word pedagogy (“teaching”). In other words, grace is our tutor for the Christian life.

Now this is opposite of what we might think. We are probably inclined to think that it is not God’s grace, but his law that disciplines us. Despite the fact that we know our salvation is all of grace, it is easy for us to slip into a performance mindset that believes that God’s acceptance of me depends on my own performance. So for instance, we have the impression that God smiles or frowns on us depending on whether we have our quiet time or performed some other spiritual disciplines. This can lead to doing good things so that “nothing bad will happen to me” or so that “God will be happy with me.” But Paul makes it clear that it is God’s grace–his unmerited favor–that trains us. In all of our duty in the Christian life we must remember the overarching truth that God is dealing with us in grace.

This means that our spiritual growth does not ultimately depend on us. Of course this does not mean that we are not responsible to respond to God’s spiritual training in our lives, but it does mean that God is the one in charge of that training. He is our shepherd, leading us in paths of righteousness.

If you’re like me, it’s easy to begin to look at the Bible as merely a big rule book–something that tells you what to do and what not to do, and expects you to perfectly meet all of God’s requirements. This is simply the law of God. It gives you no ability to obey and it only condemns you when you fail, so it can leave you feeling helpless, guilty, and utterly discouraged. As you try to live your Christian life by sheer grit and determination to do right and please God, you bump up against an unflinching reality–the more you try, the more you fail.

But the good news of the gospel is that the grace of God actually enables us to live holy lives. As we allow the reality of what it means to be united to Christ and accepted in him to sink deep into our hearts, it gives us confidence and hope in our struggle with sin. When we get a good view of ourselves and our sinfulness; and a magnificent, glorious view of the immeasurable grace of God–we will respond in joyful, grateful obedience. Obedience then becomes not a matter of grudging, guilty duty; but one of delight.

John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, understood this. He writes about the difference between law and grace:

Run, John, run. The law commands

But gives me neither feet nor hands.

But better news the Gospel brings;

It bids me fly and gives me wings.

As believers clothed in the righteousness of Christ, we do not have just a bare command to do right, but we now have the enabling grace to obey the command!  We need not labor under the crushing burden of sin for the rest of our Christian lives. In Christ we are free. Grace gives us wings to fly.

May we learn to trust the gracious leading of our Shepherd as he leads us paths in of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Mark Minnick’s Commentary Recommendations

My former pastor, Mark Minnick, recently shared a list of his top commentary recommendations for each of the NT books and several of the OT books here. This is a helpful resource coming from an able expositor.

Commentary Recommendations

“The author is disposed to think that the Scripture system is of a broader more comprehensive character than some very dogmatical theologians are inclined to allow; and that, as wheels in a complicated machine may move in opposite directions and yet subserve one common end, so may truths apparently opposite be perfectly reconcilable with each other and equally subserve the purposes of God in the accomplishment of man’s salvation. The author feels it impossible to avow too distinctly that it is an invariable rule with him to endeavor to give to every portion of the Word of God its full and proper force, without considering what scheme it favours, or whose system it is likely to advance. Of this he is sure, that there is not a decided Calvinist or Arminian in the world who equally approves of the whole of Scripture . . . who, if he had been in the company of St. Paul whilst he was writing his Epistles, would not have recommended him to alter one or other of his expressions.

     But the author would not wish one of them altered; he finds as much satisfaction in the one, he believes, as freely as the other. Where the inspired Writers speak in unqualified terms, he thinks himself at liberty to do the same; judging that they need no instruction from him how to propagate the truth. He is content to sit as a learner at the feet of the holy Apostles, and has no ambition to teach them how they ought to have spoken” (Charles Simeon, in H. C. G. Moule, Charles Simeon, 79).

NOTE: First title – provides broad explanations of Scriptural themes and passages; Second title – provides more detailed exposition and explanation (useful without training in original language)

 New Testament


·         G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Matthew [out of print]

·         John Broadus, Commentary on Matthew


·         W. Graham Scroggie, The Gospel of Mark [out of print]

·         D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark


·         J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke (2 vols)

·         Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke (TNTC)

Gospel of John

·         Homer Kent, Light in the Darkness: Studies in the Gospel of John

·         D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (PNTC)


·         John Stott, The Spirit, the Church, and the World (BST)

·         I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (TNTC)


·         John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World

·         Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (PNTC)

1 Corinthians

·         Robert Gromacki, Called to Be Saints: An Exposition of I Corinthians

·         John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians

·         Homer Kent, A Heart Opened Wide: Studies in 2 Corinthians

·         John MacArthur, 2 Corinthians


·         Homer Kent, The Freedom of God’s Sons: Studies in Galatians

·         Ronald Fung, The Epsitle to the Galatians: New International Commentary on the   New Testament (NICNT)


·         John Stott, The Message of Ephesians: God’s New Society (BST)

·         John MacArthur, Ephesians


·         Alex Motyer, The Message of Philippians (BST)

·         Gordon Fee, Philippians (NICNT)


·         Homer Kent, Treasures of Wisdom: Studies in Colossians and Philemon

·         Douglas Moo, Letters to Colossians and to Philemon (PNTC)

I & 2 Thessalonians

·         John MacArthur, 1 & 2 Thessalonians

·         D. Edmond Hiebert, The Thessalonian Epistles

Pastoral Epistles

·         R. Kent Hughes, Pastoral Epistles (sermons in Preach the Word series)

·         William Hendricksen, The Pastorals (NTC) [out of print]


·         Homer Kent, The Epistle to the Hebrews


·         Homer Kent, Faith That Works

·         Douglas Moo, The Letter of James (PNTC)

I Peter

·         Wayne Grudem, I Peter (TNTC)

·         D. Edmond Hiebert, I Peter

2 Peter

·         Herman Hoyt, Studies in 2 Peter [out of print]

·         Thomas Schreiner, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude (NAC)

1-3 John

·         John Stott, Letters of John (TNTC)

·         Colin Kruse, The Letters of John (PNTC)


·         John MacArthur, Beware the Pretenders [out of print], see MacArthur commentary 2 Peter & Jude

·         Thomas Schreiner, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude (NAC)


·         John MacArthur, Because the Time is Near

·         Robert Thomas, Revelation (2 vols)


Old Testament


·         Derek Kidner, Genesis (TOTC)

·         Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis

2 Samuel

·         Cyril Barber, The Books of Samuel, Volume 2: The Sovereignty of God Illustrated in the Life of David


·         Derek Kidner, Psalms (TOTC)

·         Willem A. VanGemeren, Psalms (in Expositor’s Bible Commentary)


·         Derek Kidner, Proverbs (TOTC)

·         Tremper Longman,  Proverbs: Baker Old Testament Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom & Psalms (BCOT)


·         Ralph Alexander, Ezekiel (Everyman Bible Commentary)

·         Ralph Alexander, Ezekiel (Expositor’s Bible Commentary)

·         Charles Lee Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel

 “If the Christian desires a happy life, let him cultivate a devotional spirit. This is the instrument by which pure joy may be drawn from the fountain of living waters” (Archibald Alexander, “Spiritual Worship” taken from Practical Sermons, reprinted by the Southern Presbyterian Press in 1997).

The Idolatry of Serving Jesus

I love being a pastor. There is great joy not only in serving God personally, but in mobilizing others to do so as well. It’s an unspeakable privilege to put the Great Commission task in front of God’s people and exhort them to give their all in kingdom service.

And yet I’ve slowly come to realize something. Serving God can become an idol. It is possible to put the mission of God in the place of God himself. While the Christian who loves Christ certainly must serve him, he must understand that it is possible to let service displace his love for Christ.

Christians have been given a mission–namely to spread the good news of the Gospel to all peoples for their good and God’s glory. And yet Os Guinness is correct that “first and foremost we are called to Someone, not to something or somewhere.” Our greatest joy is not found even in service of Christ, but in Christ himself. The apostle Paul called himself “a servant of Christ” and says he became all things to all people so that he might win some “for the sake of the gospel.” But the same Paul says that he counts all things as rubbish compared to the surpassing value of having Christ (Phil. 3:8).

In other words, Christ himself is our treasure. Our communion with Christ is what gives birth to our service for Christ. Our joy in him fuels mission in his name. And while that mission dominates our lives, it does not define them. Our identity is not most fundamentally rooted in what we do for Christ, but who we are in Christ.

Many Christians today are using their service for God as the thing that gives them significance and meaning. This is why it is possible to have whole churches filled with people busy about “the work of the ministry,” but doing so with empty souls. They know there should be joy in serving Jesus, but there just doesn’t seem to be. And so they double down and work harder and do more; all in an attempt to drown out the aching of their hearts. And yet Augustine was correct: he has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him.

And so yes, we must serve God to be faithful Christians. There is no faithful Christian living without mission. And yet we must be fully persuaded that Christ himself is our highest prize. A heart that treasures him supremely, will serve him in faith.

And Man Created God In His Own Image

Hermann Rorschach pioneered what is commonly known as the “inkblot test” for use in psychotherapy. The concept is simple–the therapist shows a patient an ink blot and asks them what they see. The inkblot is just an ordinary inkblot and doesn’t resemble anything specifically. The idea is that whatever the patient “sees” is a projection of his own mind. So the therapist is able to tell something about the patient depending on if he sees a bat or a butterfly, a flower or a skull.

All Christians have a particular and individual understanding of what God is like. When we see the God inkblot, we see any number of different things based upon our personalities, backgrounds, etc. For example:

  • To some God is a capricious, moody, angry God who is quick to chide and slow to bless. Since these people are never sure exactly what he wants or what he’s after, they tend to live in fear.
  • To some God is the exact opposite–an exceedingly good-natured, cheerful sort of figure who is always kind and always benevolent. Like the rich uncle who slips you a $50, God is eager to dispense blessings and wisdom.
  • To some God is the therapist who will help you sort through the tangled web of problems and give hope and help for the future.
  • To some God is most concerned about his people being holy and living obedient lives. To others, he is most concerned about loving all people and showing it by seeking justice and showing mercy.
  • Some are certain if Jesus were alive today he’d attend a church where he wore a suit and sang from a hymn book; others are equally sure he’d spend all his time ministering at homeless shelters and building wells in third world countries.

In each case however, the root is the same. We have made God in our own image. We have derived our conception of God from our experiences, our background, or even simply what we think “ought” to be true of God. If we are prone to almost innately, unknowingly conceive of God in terms of our own understanding, what is the answer?

Thankfully, we have not been left without recourse. The Creator God has graciously revealed himself to his creation through the Scriptures and specifically through his Son Jesus Christ. In God’s Word we see the truth of what God is like and in the face of his Son we see his character most clearly displayed. So how do we combat an unbalanced,  individualized view of God? Seek Christ in the pages of Scripture. In him God came to reveal God. He is the brightness of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Heb. 2:3).

7 Solas of the Modern Church

Protestant evangelicals trace their doctrinal roots back to the Reformation which was built around five pillars:
    • Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone
    • Sola Christus, Christ alone.
    • Solus Gratia, Grace alone.
    • Sola Fide, Faith alone.
    • Soli Deo Gloria, Glory to God alone.

The state of evangelicalism today however, looks quite different. Drifting from their Reformation roots, most churches are a blend of pragmatism, materialism, small business techniques, and the American Dream.

I recently ran across this clever suggestion regarding the new “solas” of the modern church:

1. Sola Cultura – let culture define church life

2. Sola Successa – let numerical success legitimize activities

3. Sola Entertaina – let entertainment be the guiding principle

4. Sola Edificia – let the edifice [building] be the center of church life

5. Sola Programma – let programs dominate the peoples time

6. Sola Thralldoma – let the people be enslaved by whatever thrills them

7. Sola Processa – let the church be managed by business philosophies and processes

The Grace That Frees Us From Both

What we believe is deeply affected by our experience. We don’t develop an understanding of God, the world, or ourselves in a vacuum. Rather, life circumstances (e.g. our upbringing) affect how we view things.

There is a significant portion of what has historically been know as fundamentalism that is coming into a wonderful, new understanding of how sanctification operates. Realizing that legalism (or “moralism” or “Pharisaism”) has too long characterized their teaching, many in this group are coming into a deeper understanding of what grace, union with Christ, and imputed righteousness mean for sanctification.

There is a potential danger here however. It is possible for those in this group to only understand these things in reaction to legalism. So rather than understanding grace for what it is in all of its depth, beauty, and freedom; we see it fundamentally as what it is not, and in fact begin to shape our entire perception of grace based on this.

In his book Holiness by Grace (one of the best books on sanctification I’ve read), Bryan Chapell gives a word of exhortation to those coming from self-identified fundamentalists backgrounds who are coming into a more Scriptural understanding of sanctification. This is an immensely helpful word–may it be received in humility!

“Love of grace should not make us any less on guard against the assaults of Satan that damage us and others when we move from the safety of God’s paths. There is a danger in preaching a kind of grace that is only a reaction against legalism and gives no thought to licentiousness. Grace protects from both errors by keeping us from the despair of believing that we must merit God’s love, and from the danger of thinking that God has given us no guidance for how to love him and one another.

A wonderfully warm and fresh breeze of grace is currently blowing over large portions of the evangelical church where ice storms of legalism have paralyzed many for most of the last century. The progress is profoundly encouraging but will continue only if we herald the full message of the gospel. The danger of a grace movement growing in churches whose history is largely influenced by the fundamentalist/modernist controversy of the twentieth century is that we grasp grace only as a way of reacting to legalism.

The realities of spiritual warfare remain in every spiritual condition. The fortresses of fundamentalism that artificially kept potential temptations at arm’s length by demonizing all forms of alcohol, tobacco, card playing, and theater-going are crumbling throughout the evangelical world. At the same time the accessibility and allurement of the Internet have put sexual temptation, material indulgence, gambling entertainment, personal disengagement, and ungodly communication within a mouse-click of persons of every age and social station. The expectations of business travel, the “freedoms” of the pill, the isolation provided by our closed-apartment lifestyles, the personal anonymity allowed by multi-thousand seat worships centers, the enticements of consumerism endlessly promoted–all combine to create a culture where sin is nearer to the door of even the most socially respectable than ever before.

Many of us resonate deeply with the message of grace that rightly corrects the artificial constraints and condemning attitudes of legalism. We should recognize, however, that grace also frees us from the bondage of lawlessness. We must be aware of the pitfalls of licentiousness as well as legalism. Legalism will lead to despair, but lawlessness leads to a darkness that is no less dangerous. Our message must be of the grace that frees us from both.”

Jesus Christ, the Righteous One!

When I am deeply aware of my own sin, these words minister grace:

John 2:1

1a. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.

[This by itself is horribly discouraging, because this seems to be impossible standard! But praise God for the rest of the verse!]

1b. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

Jesus My Only Hope

I will not fear Your judgment
For me no wrath I dread
For it was spent on Jesus
Poured out upon His head
When Satan’s accusations
Make my poor heart afraid
I hear my King declaring
“Father, that debt is paid!”

Jesus my only hope
My only plea
My righteousness
My Great High Priest
Who intercedes for me
Before the throne
Jesus, I trust in You alone

Before the Throne of God Above

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

[With these truths in my heart, I sing with gladness…]

Fairest Lord Jesus

Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
Now and forever more be Thine.