If you don’t know Octavius Winslow, let me introduce him to you with this devotion from his excellent devotional, Morning Thoughts (Kindle version here for just $0.99). In today’s devotion, he exhibits deep, Trinitarian thought to the salvation we have received from God. Hard to find such richness in today’s literature…
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.” Romans 8:12
THAT around a subject so momentous as this no obscurity might gather, tending to misguide the judgment, the apostle most distinctly and emphatically affirms, that the flesh has no valid claim whatever upon the believer; and that, consequently, he is under no obligation to yield compliance with its feigned exactions. We are debtors, but the flesh in not our creditor. What are its demands with which it is incumbent upon us to comply? Do we owe anything to sin, the parent of all our woe? Nothing. To Satan, who plotted our temptation, and accomplished our downfall? Nothing. To the world—ensnaring, deceitful, and ruinous? Nothing. No; to these, the auxiliaries of allies of the flesh, we owe nothing but the deepest hatred and the most determined opposition.
Debtors to the Father
And yet the saints of God are “debtors.” To whom? What debtors are they to the Father, for His electing love, for the covenant of grace, for His unspeakable gift, for having blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus! We but imperfectly estimate the debt of love, gratitude, and service which we owe to Him whose mind the Eternal Son came to reveal, whose will He came to do, and whose heart He came to unveil. It was the Father who sent the Son. With Him originated the wondrous expedient of our redemption. He it was who laid all our sins on Jesus. It was His sword of Justice that smote the Shepherd, while His hand of love and protection was laid upon the little ones. We have too much supposed that the Atonement of Jesus was intended to inspire the mercy, rather than to propitiate the justice of God; to awaken in His heart a love that did not previously exist. Thus we have overlooked the source from where originated our salvation, and have lost sight of the truth, that the mediation of Jesus was not the cause, but rather the effect, of God’s love to man. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave His Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” Oh, for the spirit to understand, and for grace to feel, and for love to exemplify, our deep obligation to God for the everlasting love that gave us His Son!
Debtors to the Son
Equal debtors are we to the Son. He was the active agent in our redemption. He it was who undertook and accomplished all that our salvation required. He left no path untrodden, no portion of the curse unborne, no sin unatoned, no part of the law uncancelled—nothing for us in the matter of our salvation to do, but simply to believe and be saved. Oh, to raise the eye to Him—strong in faith, beaming with love, moist with contrition, and exclaim, “You have borne my sin, endured my curse, extinguished my hell, secured my heaven. Your Spirit was wounded for me; Your heart bled for me; Your body was bruise for me; for me Your soul was stricken—for me, a sinner, the chief of sinners. I am Your debtor—a debtor to Your dying love, to Your eternal, discriminating mercy. Surely an eternity of love, of service, and of praise, can never repay You what I owe You, You blessed Jesus.” Oh, how deep the obligation we are under to Christ!
Debtors to the Holy Spirit
And not less indebted are we to the Holy Spirit. What do we not owe Him of love and obedience, who awoke the first thrill of life in our soul; who showed to us our guilt, and sealed to us our pardon? What do we not owe Him for leading us to Christ; for dwelling in our hearts; for His healing, sanctifying, comforting, and restoring grace; for His influence, which no ingratitude has quenched; for His patience, which no backsliding has exhausted; for His love, which no sin has annihilated? Yes, we are the Spirit’s lasting debtors. We owe Him the intellect He has renewed, the heart He has sanctified, the body He inhabits, every breath of life He has inspired, and every pulse of love He has awakened. Thus are all real believers debtors to the Triune God—debtors to the Father’s everlasting love, to the Son’s redeeming grace, and to the Spirit’s quickening mercy. To the flesh we owe nothing but uncompromising hatred; to Jehovah we owe undivided and supreme affection.
About four years ago, I wrote about “evangelism in every place.” Specifically, I argued that Christians need to look that the three dominant places where life happens: first place being the home, second place being the workplace or school, and third place being connecting hubs in the community. It is my observation that much of the latter half of the 20th century was a retreat engineered by the fundamentalist impulse of separation from worldliness.
A Little Context to the Problem
Going into the 20th century, Christians in the West were living in the age of the Industrial Revolution, great advance in innovation and transportation, and an overall increasing quality of life. Under such circumstances, postmillennial convictions found a home in a prosperous society. Could it be that the kingdom is being consummated? Well, postmillenialism was largely dashed with two World Wars, financial collapse, and several plagues. Postmillenialism was left only for liberal theologians and the social gospel–those who believed that doing good, feeding the poor, and serving the social structures of the community was “kingdom work.” The posture was one of assimilation and absorption such that there was really little to “counter” in the culture.
The reaction to postmillennialism was the rise of dispensational premillennialism which became the theological foundation for fundamentalism. In one sense, fundamentalism was a good thing–it contended for the faith once for all delivered to the saints and stood for the “fundamentals” of the faith. In another sense, however, it signaled a retreat from cultural engagement and meaningful involvement in the world. The posture became one of confrontation, not conversation or interaction. Conservative Christianity became a subculture or “ghetto” where life happened safely within the confines of sanitized, sanctified environments. There was Christian music, Christian movies, Christian magazines, Christian conferences, Christian camps, Christian radio, Christian you name it. You could live in the Christian village without ever having to fear of going into the dark, wild, and wicked outside world.
For the churches in the 20th century, this manifested in a number of ways, not the least of which was the creation of “family life centers” or “Christian life centers.” These were buildings constructed by churches so that social activity such as sports or banquets or other forms of community interaction can happen in a controlled, safe environment, far removed from the larger culture outside the walls. These buildings enforced the fortress mentality of retreat and isolationism and gave Christians the feeling of being productive by making them busy during the week with activities an programs. Churches became known for doing a lot of programs for themselves and doing little in the world around them.
Over time, God gave the Church men like Carl Henry, Francis Schaeffer, and John Stott to help lead the evangelical west out of the ghetto mentality and subculture it had created. Theologians like Gordon Ladd helped evangelicals have a more theologically consistent and biblically faithful approach to the culture with a kingdom eschatology and valued the already (inaugurated) sense of the kingdom but understood the not-yet sense of it as well. Consequently, the posture toward the culture became more nuanced: rejecting what is evil, receiving what is good, and redeeming what is broken.
We Must Enter Every “Place” for Gospel Advance
In my opinion, fundamentalism has seriously affected the Western Church’s ability to make disciples in the world due to its strong retreat from the world. Jesus says we are to go into all the world. Fundamentalism says retreat from the world. Jesus was known for dwelling with sinners in their homes. Fundamentalism was known for dwelling with Christians in their “family life centers.” If we are going to follow Jesus into the world to make disciples through gospel advance, we need to be empowered by the Spirit to reject “subcultural” norms and re-enter for the purpose of showing and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What About 1st Place?
Several decades ago, it was normal for people to engage one another in the neighborhood. Life happened in the streets and the front porch. Now, if someone knocks on the front door, you are likely to be answered with high levels of suspicion and an armed weapon. Times have changed. The Great Commission, however, has not. We need to learn new ways to engage people where we live. How can we use our homes for gospel advance? How can we be neighbors to those around us? What are ways to build relationships with those across the street and beyond our security system and fenced in back yard?
One of the ways I’ve tried make gospel advance in my “first place” is through Next Door. It is an online social network exclusively for your neighborhood. If you don’t live within the neighborhood parameters, you cannot join in. Nowadays, the front door to people’s lives is the Internet, and this digital front door is opening new, real doors into people’s lives. This may not be an option for you, but not entering in your first place should not be an option either. We must be repentant of our retreat and live intentionally in the first place where God has providentially landed us to represent Him as His good-news people.
What About 2nd Place?
With the increase of innovation and technological revolution, people are increasingly divorced from the value of their work and the impact it has on society. Though work was given to Adam and Eve as a good thing prior to the fall, work has become a necessary burden to grind through or an idol in order to find one’s identity. What we need, first and foremost, is to recover the doctrine of vocation and calling in the workplace for Christians.
Secondly, we need to realize that second places–whether work or school–are the places where we will spend the majority of time in the world outside our homes. If we check out on making disciples of Jesus, then we are marginalizing the mission to a very small window of time in our lives. For a little encouragement on re-entering the workplace for gospel advance, I encourage you to read this series of blogposts on missional work.
What About Third Places?
Every community has places where people like to connect, gather, and hang out. They can be parks, coffee shops, outdoor shopping centers, libraries, pubs, or restaurants. There are also places where everyone goes to do business, whether getting gas, buying groceries, buying clothes, going out to eat, or watching sporting events. Finally, most communities or cities have a community calendar with events and activities that are open to the public, such as parades, shows, concerts, and races. All of these are ways that we not only intersect with those in our community, but that we actually build rhythms where our lives are woven into the world around us for redemptive purposes.
The world is your third place, not your church building or “campus.” If we retreat to only having our kids on Christian sports teams or sync our lives with the busy church program calendar, then we are cutting ourselves off from the mission entrusted to us. Imagine if Jesus treated us this way? Imagine if he never came to our “place” and our world to live his life, give us his love, and die our death on the cross?
Not Additional, But Intentional
The beautiful thing about re-entering every place is that they are already where we live. The goal is not adding a busy agenda to your life; rather, the goal is to simplify and streamline your life with strategic intentionality. Anyone can do this. But practically speaking, this can be harder than others. For example, if you are a stay-at-home mom and home school your kids, it can be more challenging to engage the world for gospel advance. If you live in a multi-ethnic diverse neighborhood, it can be more challenging to connect with those in your first place. But the point is that making disciples happens in every place–first, second, and third. When the church building or campus becomes your primary place for ministry, you are looking in the wrong direction and living in the wrong place. The church is a sent people on mission to share the gospel in the power of the Spirit. We are not a program or a place. We are a people who enter into the world with good news on our lips because the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Imagine you were privileged to be at a place where you were going to be introduced to the greatest person alive today. His reputation is one where the most influential people in the world would all agree that there is no greater. Imagine what his introductions would be like? We have all heard the hyped up intros, haven’t we? The keynote speakers at conferences, the guest preacher at the church service, the honorary guest at a reception... we have been there.
God, through the Apostle John, gave an introduction to a man named John the Baptist. Jesus said of this man “among those born of a woman there has arisen no one greater” (Matt. 11:11). When he entered the scene of human history, certainly there would be a introduction fitting for such a supreme title.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.”
Wait, what? That’s it? “A man.” Okay. What kind of man? Just a man? I thought he was the man. “His name was John.” Could you have picked a more unique, more memorable, more fitting name for such an individual? There is nothing here in this introduction that tips us off to the extraordinary person John the Baptist was in human history.
You think that, following such an ordinary introduction, his list of accomplishments would soon follow to make up for a bland beginning. And, yet, it seems to be all the more paradoxical. The Apostle John says John the Baptist “was not the light.” This was confirmed through the testimony of John the Baptist who, at every point, told people who he was not. “I am not the Christ.” “I am not Elijah.” “I am not the Prophet.” Finally, when asked to explain who he was, John could only describe himself as a voice in the wilderness. And when his followers pressed him to be more aggressive and increase his influence, John could only respond by saying, “I must decrease.”
So, there you have it. The man who Jesus said was without comparison (Jesus excluded of course). His life did not end with him on a throne but in prison. He did not have a crown on his head, but ended with his head on platter. How could it really be true what Jesus said about John the Baptist? Is there really none greater?
Of course, those who have read the Bible know the rest of the story. But this is instructive to us in the age of self-promotion and platform-building, is it not? The paradox of greatness according to Jesus runs on a totally different set of tracks than the world of raw, selfish ambition. What can we learn from the life of John the Baptist, since, after all, he did it better than anyone else?
1. Platforms come from God. They are not to become your god (idol).
When challenged by his disciples regarding his “platform” not being as great as Jesus’, John replied, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). John recognized the influence and position was given to him by God, not the result of self-promotion and working up a ladder and using people for selfish gain.
John also knew that his platform had an expiration date. He was not going to live for something that was going to terminate. He was willing to let it go so long as he was faithful to fulfill the purpose of God attached to it. John was content when he was raised up in popularity and prominence, and he was content when he was brought low in obscurity and marginalization. This was because platform was not his god but a tool to put his God on display. He knew platforms came from God and are for God.
2. Platforms are best used in pointing to others and directing the stage light toward them.
At every point, John the Baptist was saying, “I am not the point.” He was the pointer. He used his platform to set the stage for One to come whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. John was not a stage hog. He did not lust for the limelight. In fact, he was so unseen he could only call him a voice from backstage (in the wilderness). You don’t see voices. John did not listen to the press or live for the praise of man.
True greatness is found in the kind of humility that leverages your influence and position to serve and build up others, not yourself. If the only thing people see in your efforts to build a platform is you and what you do, then you are doing it wrong. The stage was not meant for you. Steward it well.
3. Platforms are most enjoyable when they are tethered to God’s purposes.
John’s purpose for having his “platform” was to exalt Jesus Christ. Everything about him was an exclamation point to the declaration of Jesus Christ as Savior and King. John was not indifferent about God’s purposes in Christ. He did not consider it optional or a side item to the platform. He did not share that platform with Jesus as a trade-off. He was happy to see that everything his life was about would be used to direct people to believe, treasure, and worship Jesus Christ. Apart from God’s purposes, John’s platform would not exist. When John’s disciples thought it was all about him, John told them “Jesus must increase, and I must decrease.” They thought John was the bridegroom when John knew he was just a friend. And what do friends so? They rejoice in the celebration of the bridegroom on stage.
How could John genuinely enjoy his decrease and Jesus’ increase? John’s happiness was not tied to his platform. His happiness was tied to God’s purposes. The increase of Jesus’ “platform” was not a matter of competition for John; it was a matter of completion. If you make your platform what you are passionate about and seek enjoyment in it, there is no lasting joy found there. It is a broken cistern that can hold no water. But if whatever platform provided you is used to increase the magnification of God’s purposes in Christ as they are fulfilled in your life, then joy abounds and pleasure is made complete.
There was a man named John. He was a man, a voice, a friend of the bridegroom, and a witness. And there had arisen no one greater than him. May God help us to live our lives online and offline with the same passion, humility, and determination to have Christ seen through us, not us seen through our platforms.
Two key areas of struggle, it seems, for evangelicalism today can be found in celebrity culture and the prosperity gospel. In light of that, I found this excerpt from Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man to be insightful and convicting.
He who would bring together such a prodigious number of fishes into his disciples’ net, and, at another time, receive that tribute from a fish which he was to pay to the temple, might easily have made himself the richest person in the world. Nay, without any money, he could have maintained an army powerful enough to have justled Caesar out of his throne, having oftener than once fed several thousands with a few loaves and small fishes; but, to show how small esteem he had of all the enjoyments in the world, he chose to live in so poor and mean a condition, “that though the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, yet he, who was Lord and heir of all things, had not whereon to lay his head.” He did not frequent the courts of princes, nor affect the acquaintance or converse of great ones; but, being reputed the son of a carpenter, he had fishermen, and such other poor people for his companions, and lived at such a rate as suited with the meanness of that condition.
So many things that Jesus could have done but didn’t, and yet so many things Jesus didn’t do, we can live in pursuit of and never attain. If our goal in discipleship and life is conformity to Christ, a significant step in that process is becoming well-acquainted with the ways of Christ (not only the words of Christ). This isn’t a call to living impoverished lives as some might object, but rather a call to discipleship, a call to follow Jesus in a cruciform manner such that the life of Jesus might be seen in the dying to ourselves (2 Cor. 5).
Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church since June 2008. Tim's passion is to demonstrate a life that trusts God, treasures Christ, and triumphs the gospel. Tim is the Director of PLNTD, a church planting network in association with Founders Ministries. He's also the director of The Haiti Collective, organizer for Band of Bloggers, and creator of P2R (Partnering to Remember) and the Memory Moleskine.
You can read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.