Stephen Altrogge


Stephen Altrogge

Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, where his main duties include leading worship, preaching, and working with youth. He also has written a number of worship songs that have been included on Sovereign Grace Music albums. Stephen is the author of the book Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes, published by Crossway Books in September 2008, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, published by Crossway Books in April 2011. When not shining his dad’s shoes, you can find Stephen drinking coffee or playing video games.

Find out more when you visit his blog, The Blazing Center.

5 Lies Sin Tells Me

LIE: This is such a minor, insignificant sin! It’s not really a big deal in God’s eyes.

TRUTH: Every sin is a horribly offensive to God. Sin is the sum of all evils, the opposite of all that is good, holy, and beautiful. Even the smallest of my sins required the death of the Son of God. There is no such thing as a minor sin. Every sin is cosmic treason.

LIE: I’ll give into sin this one time, then I’ll be done with it. I just need to get it out of my system.

TRUTH: Every time I give into a sin it becomes more difficult to break the power of that sin. Sin has a way of sinking it’s barbed hooks deep into my heart. I can’t simply sin and then walk away from it unscathed. The more I give in to sin, the more entangled I become. Sin always leaves scars.

LIE: This sin is part of who I am. I’ve always struggled this way and I always will sin this way.

TRUTH: Sin does not define my identity! I am a new creation in Christ. Christ has set me free from the enslaving power of sin. I absolutely do not have to obey the sinful passions that surge through me. I may have always struggled this way, but my past does not define my future.

LIE: I need to give in to this sin in order to be happy.

TRUTH: Sin never provides true happiness. It promises sweetness, yet ultimately delivers a payload of destruction, dissastisfaction, ruined relationships, and hardness of heart.

LIE: God wants me to be happy; therefore it’s okay for me to give in to sin.

TRUTH: God does want me to be happy. However, my happiness will only rise as high as my holiness. Sin ultimately erodes and destroys true holiness and true happiness.


The Beauty of Being Broken Down

I’m one of the more broken down, needy people that I know.

I don’t say that in a “feel sorry for me because I’m a loser” kind of way. I’m not looking for handouts or hugs or Kleenex with soothing aloe (regular Kleenex works just fine). I’m just being honest. I don’t have it together. I’m not exactly living the life of constant spiritual triumph.

I struggle a lot with physical anxiety, which in turn limits what I can do. I know some people who seem to have an infinite capacity for doing. They are constantly serving, constantly giving, constantly making noise for Jesus. Their serving engine is constantly running at peak capacity. I wish I was like that, but I’m not.

I’m not Mr. Awesome Brave Kick-Butt Christian. I’m not Captain Missional, leaping cultural boundaries in a single bound. I’m not throwing punches for Jesus (not sure if that analogy works, but whatever). I’m me. Weak, tired, seeking to serve effectively but often falling short, me.

So I’ve got two options. I can constantly feel like a low-grade loser because I’m not as good as my fellow Christians, or, I can glory in my weakness.

There are times when I choose the first option. When I wallow in my weakness, feeling sorry for myself because I can’t live the hardcore life that other Christians live. When I get frustrated that God has allowed me to be hamstrung by physical weakness.

But I’m starting to realize that there is something really beautiful about being broken down. When I embrace my weakness I can also embrace the sufficiency of Jesus. When I embrace my emptiness I can also embrace the complete fullness of Jesus. I can’t be fruitful for Jesus in my own strength. I simply can’t. I don’t have the willpower, fortitude, or intelligence to create spiritual fruit in myself. I can’t cause myself to be more loving. I can’t save any souls. I can’t get the whole parenting thing on track. I can’t put in herculean hours of serving.

But it turns out that my weakness serves to glorify Jesus. I firmly believe that Jesus is going to continue making me like him, in spite of my weakness. He is going to continue shaping me into his image, helping me put to death my sin and grow in holiness. He will carry out his purposes in my life, and my limitations and weaknesses cannot stop him. When he does all these things, he will receive all the glory, honor, and praise, because clearly, I wasn’t the one who engineered the change.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord spoke these words to Paul:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

God’s power is not made perfect through feats of strength. His power is not made perfect through strategic plans or steely resolutions. His power is not made perfect through killer Christians who have it all together.

God’s power is seen most clearly when it works through weak, fallen, jacked up, messed up people. Through the weak. Through the weary. Through those who are just trying to keep up with the rest. My weaknesses strip away any boasting I might do. My weaknesses show me just how insufficient I really am. And my weaknesses show me just how great and powerful God is, because only he could bring something good out of the mess that is me. I can say with Paul:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Honestly, I really wish I didn’t deal with physical afflictions. They can suck pretty bad at times. But it seems that God has chosen weakness to be one of the primary platforms for his strength. It’s not that God achieves more through weakness—he achieves whatever he wants through whatever he wants. No, it’s that God’s power is seen more clearly against the backdrop of my weakness.

When people look at me, they won’t say, “There’s Stephen, super Christian.” At least, I hope they don’t say that. I hope people will say, “There goes Stephen. It’s amazing how God has worked in him, despite how messed up he is.”

God can use inferior persons for grand purposes. He has often done so. Go into his armory and see how he has worked by flies and lice, by worms and caterpillars, by frogs and serpents. His greatest victories were won by a hammer and a tent pin, by an ox goad, by the jawbone of an ass, by a sling and a stone, and such like. His greatest prophets at the first tried to excuse themselves on the ground of unfitness. – Charles Spurgeon


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


3 Phrases about the Bible that Should Make You Very Suspicious

When someone claims to know what Jesus or Paul or any other biblical author “really” meant. I’ve got to admit, it takes a lot of guts to make a claim like this. By saying you know what Jesus “really” meant you’re saying that all the scholars, church historians, pastors, and Christians throughout all of church history have missed the true meaning of Jesus’ words. I mean, sure, there have been many theological mistakes throughout church history. But now, after thousands of years, you’ve finally figured out what Jesus really meant? If that’s the case then Jesus’ words must have been pretty unclear.

When someone claims to know what Jesus or Paul or any other biblical author would have said if they were alive today. Again, another bold, audacious claim. God chose to close the canon of Scripture at a very particular time and place in history. There were very particular cultural practices and ideas in place when God closed the canon of Scripture. If he wanted to, God could have continued to cause men and women to write Scripture. But he didn’t. When you claim to know what Jesus would have said regarding homosexuality or gender roles or politics or church, you are walking on very dangerous ground. You are treading where only heretics dare to tread. Jesus and Paul and Luke and Jude and James and every other Biblical author said what they said and no more.

When someone claims that the Church has gotten an issue completely wrong. Yes, there have been many mistakes made by church leaders throughout church history. But to claim that the Church as a whole has gotten an issue completely wrong for the last 2,000 years? Wow, very, very bold claim. To claim that Christians, who are indwelt and led by the Spirit of God, have collectively swung and missed for the past 2,000 years is a very strong claim indeed. And doesn’t it strike you as a bit odd that only now God is starting to make up for his mistake? That now, after 2,000 years, we are the generation who has finally gotten things right?

My generation is infatuated with the new and immediate. We love the newest gadgets and newest movies and newest theological ideas. We would be wise, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, to let the fresh winds of church history blow through our musty brains.

I’m about 95% sure that at least one person who reads this post will remind me of the fact that many Christians owned slaves. In response I would say two things. First, it is my educated guess that many men and women throughout church history who have defended sinful practices were not born again. This is the case when it comes to the Crusades, slavery, the Spanish Inquisition, and many other sad events. These events and practices were promoted by those who embraced cultural Christianity, not true Christianity.

But this is not always the case. Jonathan Edwards, who was clearly born again, owned slaves. Many churches clearly embraced racist attitudes and practices for many years. What are we supposed to do in these cases? We acknowledge that Christians and churches get it wrong sometimes. This isn’t a contradiction of what I said earlier. Churches can get particular issues wrong. This is why we must always be testing our beliefs against the clear revelation of Scripture and the collective wisdom of the last 2,000 years, as opposed to the last 200 years.

We would be wise to test our modern ideas of sexuality, politics, gender roles, and every other issue against church history as a whole. As I look out over the battles being fought in churches I find it remarkable how closely many of the battles resemble the fight for democracy in the United States. This probably isn’t a good thing. Our battles must always be fought on the basis of God’s word, not current ideas. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not in any way suggesting that slavery or racism or sexism is okay. But our definitions of what is right and wrong must be shaped by God’s word and nothing else.

If we don’t we don’t test our ideas against God’s word and church history, we are in danger of letting our theology be shaped by current events and ideas rather than the clear, unshakable Word of God.


Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


You Can Almost Always Trace Legalism Back to This

Sometimes I just want someone to tell me exactly what to do.

Don’t get me wrong—most of the time I go through life with a “You’re not my mom, so stop trying to boss me around” attitude. I’m a grown man, and I don’t want anyone bossing me around.

But it turns out that life is super complicated. Who knew that raising kids could be so confusing? Every day I find myself playing judge and jury for three little girls. I settle disputes about television (“I think you’ve watched enough Daniel Tiger!), disputes about toys (“How could both of you have had it first?”), and more serious disputes (“I think you’re lying to me”).

And it’s not just kids that are complicated. I’m trying to keep my body from totally disintegrating, maintain some semblance of a budget, develop relationships with folks in my church, figure out how to school my kids, and create a career track for myself. Life is so complicated.

Because life is complicated, there are times when I want someone to spell things out for me. Just tell me what to do. Tell me how God wants me to teach my children. Tell me how I’m supposed to eat. Tell me whether or not it’s okay to watch Mad Men. Tell me if I’m supposed to give exactly 10% to my church. Just make it black and white for me.

The problem with this approach is that it almost always creates legalism.

Legalism begins when we take a true principle and codify it into a mandatory (or strongly recommended) practice. Legalism happens when good things get reduced to a very particular set of rules and statutes.

I’m all about spending time with God through Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, fasting, and fellowship. Scripture is full of exhortations to read the Word of God (Psalm 119), pray (Ephesians 6:18), and make time for fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25). To have a “Don’t tell me what to do” attitude toward Scripture is both insanity and disobedience. The problem arises when we take this good principle and start spelling out exactly how this should work. Legalism happens when a particular practice leeches onto a beautiful principle. When spending time with God is mutated into having to rise at a particular hour, no matter what your circumstances may be.

Reading the Bible is something every Christian to do. Commanding a mother of young children to rise early may eventually suck the life out of her.

Legalism happens when Biblical principles get boiled down into a list of inflexible practices.

Every parent is responsible before God to train up their children in the way of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6). But to prescribe a set of spoken or unspoken rules regarding the how, what, and why of schooling creates an oppressive, legalistic environment. Should every parent be involved in how their children are trained? Of course. Should every parent homeschool/private school their children? No, and to insist that a parent do so will drain the life out of them.

In the early days of medicine, bloodletting was a common treatment for many ailments. Physicians thought that draining a person’s blood would staunch infections and promote vitality. The physicians thought they were doing a good thing, when in reality they were actually weakening their patients.

Legalism is like bloodletting. It seems like a good thing. Creating a set of rules to follow seems like it will promote morality and keep people on the straight and narrow. Legalism feels like the safe thing to do. It gives us a feeling of being in control of our lives. When we create rules, we don’t need the Holy Spirit to do the work of convicting people.

The reality is that legalism slowly drains people of life.

I find the words of Charles Spurgeon to be very helpful:

Many preachers have had to confess the uselessness of mere moral preaching. There is no instance, I believe, on record, where the mere preaching of the law made a man love God, or where the heart ever was, or ever could be, renewed by inculcating good works.

Note: special thanks to my pastor, Paul Gilbert, for getting me thinking on these things.


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


Can You Miss God’s Will for Your Life?

Decision making can be a paralyzing experience.

Say, for example, that you have been offered a new job in a different state? Should you take it? Well, it depends. What are the schools like in the area? What is the traffic like? Are there any nuclear power plants nearby? Is the increased salary worth the emotional cost of moving your family? Will you be forced to root for the Dallas Cowboys? All these different factors can make it difficult to decide.

Now, throw the whole issue of God’s will into the mix? Is it really God’s will for you to move? It seems like it’s God’s will, but maybe it’s not. What if you make a terrible mistake and somehow miss the will of God? Are you going to end up in some purgatorial situation because you accidentally missed God’s will?

The fear of missing God’s will is enough to paralyze any Christian. But here’s the question: can a Christian miss the will of God for their life? Could you somehow go your entire life being outside of God’s good plan for you?

It seems that the Bible teaches that, yes, you can miss God’s will. It also teaches that no, you can’t miss God’s will.

You Can Miss God’s Will If…

The way to miss God’s will is really simple: ignore the Bible. In the Bible God has told us exactly what we should do when it comes to making decisions. First, we should determine if our decision goes against anything clearly spelled out in the Bible. The Bible is clear that fellowship with other believers is necessary for our Christian growth. If taking a job will cut you off from fellowship with others, it’s not God’s will for you to take the job.

Second, we should ask God to give us wisdom. James 1:5–6 says:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…

Getting wisdom from God isn’t a mystical, super-spiritual experience. It means asking God to help us think clearly and biblically about the decision in front of us. When we ask for wisdom we should believe God is going to give it to us. God isn’t trying to hide his good will from us. He wants to help us understand the right way to walk.

Third, we should ask the opinion of others. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” This is so gloriously simple. Finding God’s will for your life is as simple as asking the opinion of other, godly Christians. Lay the situation out before them, and then let God speak to you through their counsel.

You Can’t Miss God’s Will If…

If we heed the counsel of scripture, we won’t miss God’s will. God isn’t hiding his will, or trying to trick us into making a bad decision. If we evaluate our decision by scripture, ask for wisdom, and then ask the opinion of others, we are doing what God requires of us. He promises to guide us through that process.

We don’t need to seek a subjective, mystical, spiritual feeling when it comes to decision making. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes God gives us peace about a decision, and that’s a blessing. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes we might not feel one way or another about a decision. In general, feelings are a very bad barometer of the truth. A feeling of peace can come from God, but it can also come from a lot of other things, like a glass of wine or a good nap. Plus, what exactly constitutes the “right” feeling when it comes to a decision? Is it peace? Or maybe joy? Or a sense of rightness?

The Bible doesn’t tell us what we’re supposed to feel about our decisions. Instead, it tells us how to make biblical, God-honoring decisions. So, if you have a big decision to make, don’t freak out. Instead, go to the Word, ask for wisdom, and get others involved.


Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


I’m Judging You

I can inflict a lot of damage at times.

I’m interacting with someone when, suddenly, I notice it. I lean in for a closer look, just to make sure that I’m not mistaken. Is that? Yep, it sure is.

They’ve got a speck in their eye. It may be a tiny speck, but it’s significant. Really significant.

How can they not notice that speck? Are they so blind? Yeah, I may be judging them a bit, but come on, look at that thing just sitting in their eye? It’s nasty, and it bothers me. And they’re not even going to do anything about it!

I need to get others involved, maybe some sort of prayer chain. Or maybe I just need to begin a little corrective action. I’ll pull them aside and tell them how much the speck is bothering me and others. I’ll tell them the truth in love.

Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.

As I turn toward them, eager to help them be rid of the speck, I smash them in the head with the massive log sticking out of my own eye. In my self-righteousness, I end up doing more damage than help. I end up clocking them with my own sin while trying to help them deal with their sins.

Turns out that if I see a speck in someone else, it’s a pretty sure bet that I’ve got a big plank of timber sticking out of my eye. I need to remove the timber first before I even think about helping someone else. If I’m ever going to help someone else overcome sin, I’ve got to do some serious overcoming first.

This should give me pause before I launch into correcting someone else. Have I done any log removing myself?

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Mt. 7:3–5)


Is Mental Illness Actually Biblical?

I recently read two articles by a well known Christian author who is also closely connected to a Christian counseling foundation. The articles essentially argued that mental illness was a social construct created by secular doctors and psychiatrists, and therefore, is not biblical. So, when a person is depressed, he is really just experiencing sadness, and to try to treat it medically is to short circuit the power of God. When a person is anxious, she is really just experiencing worry, and to treat it medically is a secular answer to a spiritual problem. You get the idea.

The desire behind the article was good: the author was trying to demonstrate that Jesus is sufficient for every facet of life. However, I believe that treating mental illness as only (or even primarily) a spiritual problem is both profoundly unbiblical and incredibly hurtful to those who struggle with mental illness.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY REALLY MEANS TOTAL DEPRAVITY

The Bible teaches that every human being is totally depraved. This doesn’t mean that every person is as absolutely wicked and evil as they could possibly be. That would be utter depravity. Total depravity simply means that sin has affected every facet of my being, including both my soul and my body. Total depravity means that nothing works as God originally intended. My spiritual desires are affected and distorted by sin. My intellect is distorted by and affected by sin. And, most importantly (for this discussion), my body has been affected and distorted by sin.

Why do I get colds and headaches and backaches and indigestion and infections? Why do you have migraines and heart problems and kidney stones and glaucoma? We experience these things because we inhabit bodies which have been marked and marred by sin. Paul spoke directly to this when he said:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Our outer self is wasting away. Our bodies don’t work correctly. They fall apart and fail us at the worst times. While we live in this fallen world, we live in bodies that are wasting away.

In Romans 8:22–23, Paul wrote:

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Along with the rest of creation, we eagerly await for the day when Christ will return and we will receive our new, redeemed, resurrection bodies.

Until the day Jesus returns, I will live in a body which does not function as God originally intended. My brain, which is a key, central, integral part of my body, will not function correctly. Chemicals will become imbalanced. Serotonin will not be properly absorbed. Norepinephrine will be unevenly distributed. Synapses won’t fire correctly. My brain, just like every other part of my body, is prone to illness.

I would argue that if we truly believe in total depravity, then we must accept mental illness as a biblical category. If I believe that sin has affected every part of my body, including my brain, then it shouldn’t surprise me when my brain doesn’t work correctly. I’m not surprised when I get a cold; why should I be surprised if I experience mental illness? To say that depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, and every other disorder, are purely spiritual disorders is to ignore the fact that we are both body and soul.

Mental illness is not something invented by secular psychiatrists. Rather, it is part and parcel with living in fallen, sinful world.

MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE CHURCH

Treating mental illness as purely a spiritual disorder is very hurtful to those who struggle with mental illness because it points them to the wrong solution. Let me explain. For many years I’ve dealt with chronic physical anxiety. I regularly experience a clutching sensation in my chest, shortness of breath, adrenaline surges, and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. On rare occasions, the anxiety is tied to something I’m worried about, but 90% of the time the physical symptoms I experience aren’t at all connected to worry. I’ll be working away on my computer, not thinking about anything, when a feeling of anxiety suddenly descends upon me.

In those moments, I don’t need to be told not to worry. I don’t need to be told to exercise more faith in the promises of God. I don’t need to be told to snap out of it. What I need is encouragement to persevere. I need to be reminded that, even in the midst of suffering, Jesus is near. I need to be reminded that my light and momentary afflictions are producing an eternal weight of glory. I need to be encouraged to press into Jesus.

And… I need to be connected to someone who can help me deal with the physical aspects of anxiety.

Here’s the unfortunate reality: even if my thinking is biblical, faith-filled, and God-honoring, my physical symptoms of anxiety probably won’t go away. Why? Because most of the time the problem is primarily physical. Something isn’t working correctly in my brain, which in turn causes me to experience the physical symptoms of anxiety.

When interacting with Christians who experience anxiety, depression, PTSD, or any other form of mental illness, we need to treat them as whole people. We need to treat people as both body and soul. Do they need to exercise faith in the wonderful promises of God? Sure. But they also need to deal with the physical aspects of mental illness as well. Doctors are a wonderful gift from God who can offer help to those who struggle with mental illness.

We need to place mental illness in the same category as every other form of illness. When a person experiences chronic migraines, they most certainly will be tempted to doubt the goodness of God. We can serve them by encouraging them that God is good, and that he cares for them. But we also can serve them by taking them to the best migraine specialists in the country.

If we’re going to effectively care for fellow Christians who struggle with mental illness, we need to recognize that mental illness is a real thing. We aren’t only souls. Rather, we are a complex composition of soul and body. Let’s make sure we address both the soul and the body.


Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


6 Ways the Bible Tells Us What Church Should Look Like

Donald Miller ruffled quite a few feathers when he recently wrote on his blog that he doesn’t regularly attend church.

While I disagree with much of what he said, I won’t parse through every point. Others have already done that. But Miller said one thing that bothered me very much. Actually he said two things, but they were part of the same point. His point was that the Bible does not give us specific instructions as to what church should look like, which therefore means that no one can really claim to attend a “biblical” church.

The reason this statement bothered me so much is that it is so blatantly false. To claim that the Bible doesn’t tell us what church should look like is to ignore many, many very clear scriptures. To claim that the Bible doesn’t tell us what church should look like also allows a person to substitute his own preferences for the clear teaching of scripture, which Don Miller seems to do at numerous points in his blog post.

So what does the Bible have to say about church?

1. A biblical church involves at least two people gathering together in the name of Jesus. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). Working with a client on a team building exercise, while valuable, is not church. Church consists of believers coming together, in the same physical space, in the name of Jesus Christ. To gather together in the name of Jesus means gathering together to publicly worship Jesus, serve Jesus, and help others love Jesus. If you’re not gathering together with other believers in the name of Jesus, don’t call yourself a church.

2. A biblical church celebrates the Lord’s supper together. 1 Corinthians 11:23–26 says, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Jesus commanded his followers to regularly come together to remember and celebrate his death. This is a command, not an optional add-on for the Christian life. This isn’t about preference or opinion or “connecting with God” (a phrase Miller likes to use). The Lord’s supper is a communal event in which the church publicly proclaims the death of Christ. While not expressly forbidden, there isn’t a single place in scripture where a person celebrates the Lord’s supper by themselves. A biblical church celebrates the Lord’s supper. If you’re not celebrating the Lord’s supper with other believers, don’t call yourself a church.

3. A biblical church is led by qualified elders. In Titus 1:5–9, Paul said to Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Paul insisted that the churches he founded be led by qualified elders. This was so important to Paul that he left Titus behind in Crete for the express purpose of finding and appointing qualified elders for each church. In our post-modern, democratic society, the idea of eldership isn’t especially popular, but it is especially biblical. If you’re not being led by qualified elders, don’t call yourself a church.

4. A biblical church worships in song together. Ephesians 5:18–21 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Notice that this passage has both a vertical and a horizontal dimension to it. We are to be filled with the Spirit, making melody in our hearts to the Lord. We are also to address one another with our psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Singing isn’t just about you connecting to God or experiencing a particular emotional response. When the church gathers to sing we are also proclaiming truth to one another. Honestly, God isn’t primarily concerned with whether or not we like singing or emote when we worship. He is concerned that we proclaim his goodness and glory to Him and to one another through song. If you’re not singing to the Lord and to one another, don’t call yourself a church.

5. A biblical church maintains corporate holiness through church discipline. Matthew 18:17 says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The church really is a place of spiritual protection. Jesus expects his followers to help one another pursue holiness. If a Christian begins to engage in serious sin, Jesus expects the members of his Christian community to lovingly rebuke him. If the person refuses to repent of his sin, the entire church is expected to get involved.

This process presupposes that a Christian will be vitally connected to other Christians. The reality is, the process of discipline can’t happen apart from a local church. If you’re not maintaining holiness through church discipline, don’t call yourself a church.

6. A biblical church is a place where Christians can use their spiritual gifts to bless one another. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

In writing this verse, Paul was clearly assuming that the Corinthians would be gathering together on a regular basis in the name of Jesus for the purpose of worshiping together. When they gathered together, they were to use their spiritual gifts to build one another up. It is impossible to build other Christians up if you’re not regularly gathering together with other Christians in the context of corporate worship. If you’re not using your spiritual gifts to build other Christians up, don’t call yourself a church.

Contrary to what Donald Miller says, attending church is not about tribalism, or learning styles, or opinion, or preference. Attending church is a matter of obedience.

And there really is such a thing as a biblical church.


Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


Can We Really Preach Too Much Grace?

We Christians are a funny bunch. We love to talk about how we are saved by grace, only grace, by faith alone, not by works. We passionately belt out the words to “Amazing Grace,” joining our voices to proclaim that grace has brought us thus far, and grace will lead us home. When we share the gospel with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims, we use various tactics and strategies to pin them down on whether salvation is by works or grace.

But when it comes to actually living the Christian life, we tend to muddy the clear waters of grace.

I see this most clearly in the way many Christians respond to teaching that places a heavy emphasis on God’s grace and less emphasis on our efforts. Without fail, some people will cry “foul,” complaining that proclaiming grace without equally talking about effort leads to spiritual laziness. They protest that a message of pure grace does not lead to sanctification.

For example, in a review of Barbara Duguid’s book Extravagant Grace, one reader wrote:

… her view in the book of sanctification is sadly lacking in understanding. There is no way to divorce biblical forgiveness (God’s gift through faith in Christ giving us the POSITION of right-standing before God—i.e. justification) and the process of sanctification which comes through the Spirit, the Word of God, prayer, focus on the eternal, not the fleshly, living carefully in the biblical fear of God, continually submitting to His authority and rightful rule over us.

I understand where that objection comes from. After all, in Romans 6, Paul makes it clear that receiving God’s grace doesn’t mean we get to throw a sin party, and James says that faith without works is no faith at all (James 2:17).

But the longer I’m a Christian, the more I’m convinced that a true understanding of grace always leads to deeper sanctification.

I’ve tried doing the holiness by focusing on holiness thing. You know what I mean. I think that if I can focus enough on my sin and stir up enough resolve in my heart, I can change. I can become more patient, more loving, more committed to Christ. If I can read my Bible enough and pray enough, the number of sins in my life will be less. If I put forth the effort, sin will by necessity go down.

But it doesn’t work this way in God’s kingdom.

Sanctification is not an equation. More prayer does not equal less lust. More Bible doesn’t mean less pride. Fellowship doesn’t automatically create forgiveness. Though I am born again, I am still completely dependent on Jesus to change me. I can’t be the change I want to see. Jesus must work that change in me.

That’s why Jesus said in John 15:5, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Here is where grace comes into the mix. The more I understand the depths of God’s grace, the more I want to press into Jesus. The more I comprehend the astounding forgiveness I have in Christ, the more time I want to spend with Christ. The more I feel God’s gospel pleasure in me, the more I want to spend time with Jesus. Condemnation drives me away from Christ; grace draws me to Christ.

And here’s the kicker: the more I’m with Jesus, the more I change. Apart from Christ I can’t change, but when I’m near to Christ, he works divine change in me.

Paul touched on this divine equation when he said:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

The gospel of grace allows me to behold the Lord without fear or dread. Grace allows me to see and savor the glory of Christ without the terror of being consumed by the holiness of Christ. Isaiah called prophetic curses on himself when he beheld the glory of Christ (Isaiah 6). I behold the glory of Christ, and the more I see Christ, the more I become like Christ.

I’m not saying that we should stop calling people to put forth spiritual effort. Scripture makes it clear that we should pursue holiness with all our strength. But we can’t preach too much grace. Grace is the lifeblood of the Christian. It is the greatest motivator for the Christian, the greatest producer of change.

As Charles Spurgeon said:

Spurgeon Quote


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


The Unexpected Perks of Being Thrown Into the Fire

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12 ESV)

Trials stink. Running out of money stinks. Suffering from chronic migraines stink. Being slandered by coworkers stinks. All trials stink, right?

Well, yes and no. From a human perspective, trials are painful and sad. But from God’s perspective, trials are sad, but also wonderfully productive. In James 1:2-4 it says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Humanly speaking, this is crazy talk. Count it all joy whenever I meet a trial? James sounds like some sort of sadistic masochist who loves pain. Like those guys who lie on beds of nails, or swallow glass, or watch made-for-TV movies on the Hallmark Channel. Insane. Perhaps a bit unstable. In need of psychiatric help.

But James sees things from God’s perspective. He knows that God uses trials to produce steadfast faith in us. Steadfast faith is faith that isn’t easily shaken. Steadfast faith is faith that holds fast to God even when it is buffeted and beaten. Steadfast faith says, “Blessed be your name,” on the road marked with blessing and the road marked with suffering. If we’re going to make it to the end, we need steadfast faith.

But steadfast faith doesn’t just happen. It’s not like you can take a blue steadfast pill and suddenly be a faith ninja. Steadfast, unshakeable faith only comes through the pressure of trials. Trials press us in to God. They force us to lean on God, and trust him when we can’t see the outcome. They knock our legs out from underneath us so that we’ll cling to God.

God never wastes our suffering. He doesn’t play games with our suffering. Every trial has a divine purpose behind it. We can rejoice in our trials, and even count them all joy because we know that God is producing steadfast faith in us.

Rejoice in your trials. Count them all joy. Wait patiently in the midst of them. God is at work, even if you can’t see it.


4 Words That Change Every Situation

Have you ever had one of those, “Woah, wait a minute!” times when reading the Bible? You’re slowly meandering your way through a chapter, trying to clear your sleep-fogged head, when suddenly a verse jumps out and slaps you in the face. I had one of those moments this morning.

I was making my way through Psalms 54, trying to shake off a slight headache, when I read Psalms 54:4:

“Behold, God is my helper…”

Bam! Bible verse to the face (in a good, sweet way). The words “God is my helper” are astonishing. Think about them for a moment. They literally change every situation. God, the God of the universe, the omnipotent, all-wise, all-loving, righteous, true, angel terrifying, sinner saving, God is MY HELPER. Woah. Woah!

  • I am really not feeling well, and I’m really tempted to complain… but God is my helper! He can heal me, or give me the power not complain, or both.
  • My child is not doing well spiritually, and I’m at my wits end… but God is my helper! He can melt my child’s hard heart and give me wisdom to navigate the every sticky situation.
  • My partner on this school project is doing nothing, and I want to punch him in the face… but God is my helper! He can give me diligence, patience, and love.
  • My kids are running around the house, peeing on the floor, and generally driving me insane… but God is my helper! He can give me an otherworldly love for these high speed children.
  • I’ve sinned in the same way again and again and again…but God is my helper! He promises that sin will not have dominion over me. He will give me power to overcome this sin.

There is no situation too great for God. There is no heart too hard for God. There is no budget too tight for God. There is no boss too difficult for God. God is your helper! He is my helper! Those four words change every situation.

Do you need wisdom today? God is your helper. Do you need strength today? God is your helper. Do you need patience today? God is your helper. If God is your helper, that changes everything.


6 Ways to Kickstart Your Devotional Life

There are times when, for whatever reason, our devotional life goes stale. Bible reading seems like a colossal chore, our prayers feel tepid and weak, and our love for God ebbs. We feel like we are stuck in a spiritual rut, like we don’t have any soul traction, like we’re just spinning our spiritual wheels. These times of staleness can be incredible frustrating and discouraging.

Are you in a spiritual rut? Here are a few practical tips to breathe new life and vigor back into your devotional life.

PRAY! PRAY! PRAY!

All the practical tips in the world won’t make a lick of difference unless God moves mightily on your heart. God cannot be controlled. He is not a personal genie who can be summoned on command. He cannot be summarized or contained in a neat formula. But he promises to respond to our humble requests. He is a good father who loves to give good gifts to his children. In Luke 11:13 Jesus said:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

God loves to give the Holy Spirit to us, but we have to ask! If your devotional life is in a rut, humbly confess your cold heart to God and ask him to breathe white hot affection back into you.

READ A BOOK

Seeing the splendors of God through the undimmed eyes of another person can be tremendously helpful. One of the ways to see God through the eyes of someone else is to read a book. Often times our view of God is cluttered and clogged by the circumstances of life. Reading a book allows us to stand on the shoulders of someone else and see over all the clutter. If your devotional life is dim and blurry, take a short break from your regular Bible reading and spend some time savoring a good book. I recommend any of the books on my list of thirty books every Christian should read.

READ THE PSALMS

The Psalms are an intensely devotional section of scripture. The authors of the Psalms experienced the highs and lows of life, and they met God in the midst of those highs and lows. They experienced the faithfulness of God in the dry times and in the seasons of fruitfulness. If your devotional life is lacking oomph try spending some time in the Psalms.

START A BIBLE READING PLAN

Many times our devotions lack substance because we don’t appropriately plan them out. We meander from verse to verse, reading a bit here, a snatch there, yet never making any real progress through God’s word. If this describes your devotions, maybe you need a Bible reading plan to get you on track. The ESV Bible website has a bunch of different Bible reading plans to get you started. If your devotional life is lacking direction trying starting a Bible reading plan.

ABANDON YOUR PLAN

Some of us like plans a little bit too much. We like to make lists and then cross things off those lists. We like the feeling of progress, of moving forward, of gettin’ her done. We apply our love for plans to our Bible reading and thus read through the Bible every year like clockwork. This is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But there are times when we need to abandon our plan and simply slow down our Bible reading. To delight in and savor a chapter, or a section, or just one verse. If your devotional life is feeling too rigid and stiff try abandoning your plan for a while.

CHANGE UP YOUR METHODS

Most of us read the Bible. After all, the Bible is a book and books are meant to be read. No argument from me. But remember, significant portions of the scriptures were originally intended to be heard. The apostolic letters were read aloud in the churches. The Psalms were read aloud in the synagogues. Scripture was meant to be both and read and heard. The ESV Bible site allows you to listen to the Bible instead of reading it. If your devotional life is feeling repetitive try listening to God’s word. Take notes as you listen.

Out of all these tips, the first is the most important. You can do all the right things and yet if God doesn’t work powerfully in your life nothing will happen. However, I know that God wants your devotions to be meaningful. He wants you to have a vibrant, joyful devotional life. In light of that truth I would encourage you to prayerfully try these different suggestions.

Don’t be content with a mediocre spiritual life. Press into God. He wants to meet you.