Tim Brister

Tim Brister

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.

Do You Truly Understand the Power of the Gospel?

The Bible is living and active (Heb. 4:12), inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16), and given for the purposes of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The Bible is all about God’s story of redemption centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the church where I serve, we say the gospel is all about (1) who Jesus is, (2) what Jesus has done, and (3) why that matters.

The gospel is the power of God (Rom. 1:16), and that power is demonstrated not only in our past rescue, reconciliation, and redemption, but also in our present faith, hope, and love. Christians who truly get the gospel discover its power again and again on a daily basis. They get it in all three areas of text, context, and subtext because the gospel changes everything. The “living and active” nature of the Word is doing its effectual work as the Spirit convicts, renews, and reforms our lives in ways that demonstrate the transforming power of Jesus.

Text • Context • Subtext

The text addresses biblical revelation. God reveals Himself through His written Word and in His Son, the Word made flesh. The gospel is the message, the text above all texts, that reveals God’s sovereign purposes in history to unite all things in Christ. Truly getting the gospel means we understand that the gospel is normative and supreme in God’s dealings with us, and we humbly submit to the authority of God’s Word and what it says about us and our need for Him. We are committed to knowing the gospel truly and articulating it clearly because God has spoken on the issue definitively.

The context addresses life orientation. These are matters pertaining to what lies outside of us and how our lives relate to them and orient around them. Context includes our relationships to other people, daily circumstances, seasons of life, spheres of existence, etc. Truly getting the gospel means we recognize that context is the place where the gospel is applied. Living in light of the gospel is learning to work out our new identity in Christ in specific places, in specific situations, and with specific people so that the reign and rule of King Jesus is manifested in His Lordship through the context of our existence.

The subtext addresses heart motivation. If context addresses what lies outside of us, subtext deals with what lies inside of us–our hearts. Subtext matters include motivation for actions, pursuit of pleasure, and aim in personal ambition. Subtext reveals the areas where unbelief remains in the life of a Christian, showing where functional idolatry and other forms of god-replacements are substituted for happiness, joy, peace, and contentment. Subtext is the canvas of our life story, and when we truly get the gospel, we see how the story of the gospel rewrites the story of our lives as we move from unbelief to belief in all matters of the heart.

Failing to Get the Gospel

One of the greatest dangers for Christians today is to be content with getting the gospel merely with biblical revelation (text). In my (Reformed) tribe, a great deal of energy is expended on getting the gospel right here, and rightfully so. The best books available on “what is the gospel message?” are coming from theologically-astute pastors and scholars. Nevertheless, if we fail to get the gospel message from our heads to our hearts and lives, then we are failing to truly get the gospel.

The normative nature of the text should have direct application for the context and personal implication for the subtext of our lives. Maturing gospel-centered Christians are discontent to correctly know the doctrinal aspect of the gospel; they are driven to a life dominated by the gospel. Those who love the gospel will not only find it a message to contend for, but also a message to live by. That means theological conversations are not enough. Bible studies are not enough. Books and commentaries are not enough. Superb head knowledge and theological acumen are not enough.

We simply cannot cut off the gospel’s power from the very places it intends to work – ongoing life-transformation. Those who truly get the gospel are those who confess how little of the gospel they truly get – and how much more they desire to embrace. They know that confessing Jesus is Lord means something in the context of their lives and subtext of their life story, and they want a congruency with what the gospel reveals, what their heart desires, and what their life demonstrates.

Those who truly get the gospel have gotten the most use out of the gospel. They have wrestled with how to apply the gospel to marriage or parenting, to adversity or success, to loneliness or stress-filled days. They are not afraid to deal openly and aggressively with areas of unbelief in their heart–doubts, fears, and all the ways the brokenness of the fall has caused them to look elsewhere to find hope, healing, and happiness. There’s an honesty that is refreshing because the gospel is so gripping. When you get it, it won’t let you get off believing a glossy, artificial, photoshopped version of you, because Jesus did not die for fake sinners who dress in fig leaves. He came for real sinners who have real need for real power from a really risen Savior.

The question I have to keep asking myself is, “What areas of my life in the context (externally) and subtext (internally) that I am cornering off or building a fortress around so that the text of God’s gospel is not actively working? How is this not revealing how I am ashamed of the gospel?” A gospel community presses one another into the context and subtext, as messy as it is, because of the mercy we have found at the cross. A gospel community that truly gets the gospel will celebrate faith and repentance in the ongoing renewal that comes from Spirit who graciously magnifies Christ in our hearts.

I want to be numbered among those who truly get the gospel so that the world may know how glorious Jesus is and how amazing I’ve discovered His grace to be.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

How Jesus Did NOT Pursue Celebrity and Prosperity

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).

Someone Will Sin Against You Today, Are You Ready?

Growing up in North Alabama, I remember going through specific routines in the event of an emergency. I doubt there was a kid who did not know why or when you need to stop, drop, and roll. We were trained in protocols in the event of a tornado, calmly lining up in the hallway and securing our heads from potential debris. We knew how to exit the buildings in case of a fire in a single-file line to safe zones outside. All of these procedures were responses to various kinds of potential disasters we could encounter while in school.

Now what, do you think, are the possibilities that I as a kid in elementary school would actually need to follow through on those drills? How often would a tornado tear through our building? How often would a fire consume the classrooms? Hardly ever, if at all, right? But we were still trained in how to respond in the very unlikely event that they might occur.

What if I told you that on a daily basis you are going to be faced with potential crises or disasters that required a response from you? What if it was not a distant potentiality but an eminent reality? How would you prepare yourself for such situations? Would you be trained to know how to respond?

Let me break this down and make the case why every follower of Jesus must have a gospel response plan (GRP).

  • Have you ever been hurt by someone else?
  • Have you ever been criticized?
  • Have you ever been offended?
  • Has someone ever sinned against you?
  • Have you sinned against someone else?
  • Has your day ever taken one unexpected turn after another?
  • Have other people let you down or betrayed your trust?
  • Have you faced days of disappointment and despair?
  • Have you experienced frustration and anger at the failure of others or yourself?

These are just a few questions addressing realities you and I face on a daily basis, and with every question/situation, a response will manifest from your life. But what kind of response will it be? We have a choice to respond out of our sinful nature (Gen. 3) or out of our new identity in Christ. Will our response be driven by guilt and shame, hiding and pretending, blaming and fearing like Adam and Eve in Genesis 3? Or will our response arise from repentance and faith out of a heart resting in God’s acceptance of you in Christ?

You are a sinner living among sinners. You are a desperately needy person rubbing shoulders with desperately needy people. What weak, needy sinners need in every moment is to look to a strong, sufficient Savior. That’s what we do when we respond to the gospel–we turn from looking to ourselves (whether out of self-pity or self-righteousness) in repentance and we look to Christ in renewed faith and trust.

The problem we have today, I fear, is that most Christians do not have a developed gospel response plan and, therefore, there is no functional repentance and faith response when things happen (internally or externally) in their lives. The default, then, is to look somewhere other than Jesus in our response. And this, I find, is a massive discipleship breakdown for believers.

Someone is going to sin against you. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you pursue reconciliation through forgiveness and view that person through the lens of grace? Or will you come across self-righteous and force that person to make atonement for their sin by working their way back into a right relationship with you based on their efforts?

You are going to sin against someone else. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you make excuses for your sin? Rationalize it? Blame others for it? Or will you own it, humbly confessing it to God and those whom you sinned against, seeking forgiveness? Will you hide away playing the victim card in self-pity, sulking in your failure, or will you take your sin to the throne of grace to your merciful High Priest?

Paul said, “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in him…” (Col. 2:6). You receive Jesus by repentance and faith, and you walk in that same repentance and faith. That is to say, this is how we “learn Christ” (Eph. 5:20) and “put on our new self” (i.e., our new identity in Christ). I think the most practically and helpful tool that Christians have today is to be trained to know how to respond to various situations they will encounter in a way that commends the gospel and flows out of a heart fully resting and secure in Jesus. We are not talking about potential dangers here. We’re talking about actual, real-life situations happening every day where Christians will either act out the old man of Genesis 3 or the new man being renewed by the Holy Spirit.

Think back in your life where sin has impacted your relationship with God and others. Are there people that are no longer in your life because of the functional absence of a gospel-driven response? Sadly, I can say that is true for me, and I suspect that if we are cognizant enough, nearly everyone would consent to that reality. But we don’t have to continue that way!

So what is your Gospel Response Plan?

You are sinner living in a fallen world. You are going to be hurt, betrayed, frustrated, prideful, annoyed, judgmental, pitiful, and so much more. It’s going to happen. But are you going to be trained as a follower of Jesus Christ to know, almost instinctively, how to respond with the gospel through premeditated prescriptions of specific ways to walk in repentance and faith?

Perhaps what we need to do each morning is prepare ourselves with some “gospel drills.” Think about one possible situation a gospel response will be required of you. For example, you are at a restaurant and your server is extremely slow and the food is cold. The server asks you if there is anything else you need, and you are tempted to treat her like her actions deserve. But instead, you respond by saying, “Thank you for serving me today, and by the way, as I pray over my food I would like to know if there is anything I can pray for you about?” Who knows? The server may already be feeling guilty and embarrassed by their service and surprised by your gracious response. They could be going through a terrible crisis in their lives, and they open up to you and provide an opportunity for you to minister to them (and perhaps introduce them to Jesus).

Why that gospel drill? Because you will get bad service and cold food. You will be tempted to act out of the old Adam and not out of the risen Christ. And this is one of countless other ways we need to “learn Christ” and “put on the new self” with a strategy to approach whatever comes our way to walk in repentance and faith and show the transforming power of Christ’s abundant grace actively working in our lives.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

6 Destructive Ways We Minimize Our Own Sin

I found these six ways of minimizing sin to be very instructive regarding gospel-centered sanctification/mortification of sin. Take a moment and examine your fight against sin, the ways you are prone to minimize sin, and develop an intentional strategy to renounce them.


I find it difficult to receive feedback about weaknesses or sin. When confronted, my tendency is to explain things away, talk about my successes, or to justify my decisions. As a result, I rarely have conversations about difficult things in my life.


I strive to keep up appearances, maintain a respectable image. My behavior, to some degree, is driven by what I think others think of me. I also do not like to think reflectively about my life. As a result, not very many people know the real me (I may not even know the real me).


I tend to conceal as much as I can about my life, especially the “bad stuff”. This is different than pretending in that pretending is about impressing. Hiding is more about shame. I don’t think people will accept the real me.


I am quick to blame others for sin or circumstances. I have a difficult time “owning” my contributions to sin or conflict. There is an element of pride that assumes it’s not my fault AND/OR an element of fear of rejection if it is my fault.


I tend to downplay sin or circumstances in my life, as if they are “normal” or “not that bad. As a result, things often don’t get the attention they deserve, and have a way of mounting up to the point of being overwhelming.


I tend to think (and talk) more highly of myself than I ought to. I make things (good and bad) out to be much bigger than they are (usually to get attention). As a result, things often get more attention than they deserve, and have a way of making me stressed or anxious.

This excerpt is taken from the excellent study called The Gospel-Centered Life

Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church since June 2008. You can read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.

The 5 Categories of Non-Christians

Last week, I brought up the new posture of Christianity in post-Christendom and how we re-enter culture in a subversive way to advance the kingdom of God. Before I jump into the paradigm and practices in post-Christendom, I believe it is important to give a little perspective.

Non-Christian Scale

In the little diagram above, I lay out 5 different categories for unbelievers. I contend that, with the shrinking of Christendom, there is an increase in paganism. In other words, when non-Christians are categorized according to their position/stance regarding Christianity, there are far more today in the -3 to -5 categories than there is in the -1 and -2.

To be clear, everyone to the left of the center line is what the Bible calls “lost” and outside Christ. There are no degrees of lostness. Either you are saved or you are lost. The difference is twofold: access and attitude. The further to the left you go, the less access non-Christians have to the gospel and the more likely the attitudes are strongly antithetical to the Christian faith. While the two are not necessarily intrinsic to each other, they are often connected (e.g., someone who could have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and not necessarily be opposed to it, and someone could be strongly opposed to Christianity and had considerable access to the gospel message).

Acknowledging that these descriptions are not exhaustive, they are however an attempt to provide distinctions between non-Christians as I have studied and spent time with them in a post-Christendom America.

0 to -1 | Conversant

The conversant crowd is the vestige of Christendom. These are non-Christians who (a) may think they are Christians by their regular involvement in religious activity or church or (b) find Christianity agreeable from an intellectual or cultural standpoint. They may have many friends and family members who are followers of Jesus Christ while they themselves have not chosen to repent and believe. The conversant crowd often find Christianity profitable from a worldview, ethical/moral, or cultural aspect and converses along those lines. They do not mind regular dialogue about Christianity and consider themselves somewhat competent in their understanding of Christianity.

-1 to -2 | Relevant

The relevant crowd are the people who still have considerable access the orthodox Christianity, either through occasional attendance to church services (Christmas and Easter), or through other forms of media (radio, television, internet, etc.). Having been brought up in Christendom, Christianity has some relevance for many of them. They may have attended church as a kid, gone to a vacation Bible school, prayed publicly, or learned the Ten Commandments in school growing up, etc. Occasionally, you may hear a reference or two to a biblical story, principle, or verse they learned in the past in their everyday interactions. As a result, Christianity remains relevant to them, though they are not as active or engaged as the conversant crowd.

-2 to -3 | Ignorant

The ignorant crowd are the people who simply do not know or understand Christianity. Many in the younger generations today did not grow up in Christian homes or in a Christian culture or sub-culture and, therefore, have virtually no true understanding of the Christian message. Christianity is more understood as a voting block, some kind of political affiliation, or having espoused conservative ethical and moral positions on cultural issues. When you aske them about Christianity, you typically get superficial answers because they simply don’t know much about true, biblical Christianity. Being ignorant does not necessarily mean being opposed; rather, they simply have not had nearly as much access and exposure to true Christianity in their lifetime. Contemporary sociologists and researchers have described the ignorant crowd as the “nones”—those who do not ascribe to any belief system and don’t want to be labeled as such.

-3 to -4 | Indifferent

The indifferent crowd are the people who don’t want you talking about Christianity in the public square. They would rather not be inundated with Facebook posts talking about Jesus or the Bible. If you are a Christian, fine. Just don’t bring it into their world or in their conversations. They don’t care that you are a Christian so long as you keep it to yourself. They may have ideas of spirituality, but it is often without any consistent worldview; rather, it is more a la carte, self-selective spirituality where they pick and choose the aspects of various belief systems they find palatable to them. The indifferent crowd find their philosophical underpinnings in moral relativism and subjective truth (I determine what is right and wrong, and I have the right to define what is true for me). They have little to no access to true Christianity because (a) they don’t care about it personally or find it needful, and (b) they do not have Christian friends, family, or acquaintances who are regularly engaged in their lives.

-4 to -5 | Militant

The militant crowd are the people who don’t want to be Christians and don’t want anyone else to be Christians, either. They are hostile to the Christian faith and don’t mind letting you know it. For most if not all of them, their aggression is due to a direct confrontation to their way of life. While the atheist or agnostic may say they do not believe in God from an intellectual standpoint, almost invariably, the issue is not an intellectual impasse but rather a moral confrontation. They do not want to be told what you must believe and how you must live. The militant, anti-authoritarian culture disavows any higher authority than the self. Christianity says there is one ultimate authority, God, to whom all men must give an account and be judged. The militant crowd wants no accountability to a God they do not believe in, and any time truth statements are made to them, they do not merely find them intellectually implausible, but morally reprehensible. The overwhelming number of people in the militant crowd are unreached and unengaged from the Christian community due to their militant attitudes toward Christianity as well the cultural retreat of Christendom into their own ghettos (sub-cultures) in recent decades.

Again, these descriptions are not intended to be exhaustive. They are my attempt to provide a perspective on post-Christendom and the world around us. I believe there has been a considerable shift over the past decade (or two) toward paganism, where the majority of non-Christians today are ignorant, indifferent, and militant.

In my next post, I will explain two paradigms of ministry by local churches and why the predominant paradigm, though effective in Christendom, will not be effective in post-Christendom.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

Where Jesus Lived on Mission

Jesus came to save His people from their sin (Matt. 1:21). From heaven, His mission was declared before He was born. The accomplishment of that mission came through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Granted, there is a big emphasis here in the Gospel accounts, especially in Mark where the last week of Jesus’ life seemed to be in slow motion in a book that repeatedly says “and immediately…”.

Having said that, I believe there is much to be studied from the life of Jesus. Jesus did not only accomplish His mission, but He entrusted the mission to His disciples and sent them out to live as He lived–as those who have been sent. The fact that we have four Gospel narratives about Jesus life tells us that there is much to be studied and learned about Jesus. Indeed, His life and message is inexhaustible in nature!

In recent years, there is a section in the gospel accounts that have impacted me significantly, both as a disciple of Jesus and as a disciple-maker. This portion Scripture has the bookends of His temptation in the wilderness (the beginning) and the commissioning of His disciples (the end). In the book of Matthew, it is Matthew 4:17-9:38. In the book of Luke, it is Luke 4:14-8:56. I believe this passage is worthy of serious and sustained reflection and meditation as a disciple of Jesus because it reveals the life of Jesus on mission from the inauguration of His ministry to the commissioning of His disciples. I am convinced that every step was intentional, every story was purposeful, every aspect providential for the purpose of not only accomplishing His mission but also modeling and training His apprentices to become like Him in every way.

Where Jesus Lived on Mission

One of the many aspects we can learn from Jesus is where He lived on mission. Isn’t it remarkable that the man who had the most important mission in the world did not come to set up a palace or compound or even headquarters at the capital of the known world? Even in his notoriously known hometown (“can anything good come out of Nazareth?”), Jesus was highly unremarkable (“isn’t this the son of the carpenter?”). Truly amazing when you consider that His life has now changed hundreds of millions people throughout the world. From the borrow manger to the borrowed donkey to the borrowed tomb, Jesus’ life on mission left a mark that architectural diggers cannot find, but men in every age cannot deny.

Taking the section in Luke that I mentioned earlier, I took some time to mindmap the places where Jesus lived on mission. As you will see, the color codes represent common threads in His journey.

Based on this breakdown, I discovered 5 different kinds of places where Jesus lived on mission: (1) in the synagogues, (2) in people’s homes, (3) in the cities, (4) in the rural/countryside, and (5) the desolate place/mountain. From these observations, what can disciples of Jesus learn from how He lived on mission?

Takeaways from the Where

The first thing we should consider is that Jesus came on mission for all (kinds of) people. He went to the culturally elite and influential (synagogues) and to the blue-collar citizens (farmers and fishermen). He went to where they were, whether it was a grain field or a ruler’s house. You did not find a location on the earth on which Jesus did not claim absolutely sovereignty.

The second thing we can take away is that Jesus could not be boxed in any tribe or group in that day. He had no problem going from the house of a Pharisee to a tax collectors house to a ruler’s house. All three people are from different in just about every way, and yet Jesus was relevant to them. He was approachable and accessible to them in the same way–in their homes. Can you imagine what His disciples must have felt like when Simon the zealot was eating with Jesus in the home of a tax collector? Talk about an identity crisis!

The third takeaway from where Jesus lived on mission can be seen in its personal yet public nature. Jesus addressed large groups of people at times (synagogues and cities) but also in small gatherings (homes) and one-on-one (ruler, demon-possessed man in Gennesaret).

The fourth takeaway from where Jesus lived on mission the critique of geo-centric emphasis that we often see today. Was Jesus on mission in the city? Yes. Was Jesus on mission in the countryside? Yes. Was any one any less significant in His mission? No. Jesus was about establishing His kingdom on earth, whether that was at a tax collectors booth or a grain field, whether a ruler’s house or on a boat in the middle of a lake, whether in a synagogue or simply “along the way.”

A final takeaway is that Jesus lived on mission where people lived, worked, and played. Jesus came to people in their homes. Jesus came to people in their workplace (fishermen at the lake, tax collectors at their booths, religious leaders in their synagogues). Jesus came to people where they played and connected in the city (synagogues, lakes, along the way, etc.). Whether first, second, or third places in culture, you could find Jesus on mission bringing the good news that the King is here.

As a disciple of Jesus, I have so much to learn from Him. As a disciple-maker of disciples of Jesus, I have so much to teach and train others. Certainly where Jesus lived on mission and the implications for us today ought to be fundamental instruction for a “sent people.” How was Jesus sent? What did it look like? Those are important questions, and in the kindness of God, we get to see that in the gospel accounts so we can learn to “walk in His steps.”

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

The Inverted Nature of Christ’s Invitation

Have you ever considered the scandalous grounds of Christ’s invitation?

We are raised in a world where invitations are given to those who successfully reach a standard or excel in accomplishment. If you are a student and your GPA and ACT/SAT scores meet a certain standard, you are given an invitation to attend a college or university. If you are an athlete and your excellence performance on the field or court qualifies you for an athletic scholarship, you are invited to play for the team. If you apply for a job, and your resume indicates from your previous experience you are qualified for the job, you are invited to join the company or business. That’s the way it works in the world no matter what arena you find yourself in life.

But not so with Jesus.

Jesus undermined the world’s way of thinking with the first words of his first sermon. Talking to a culture dominated by those seeking to be rich in spirit, Jesus declared that the kingdom of God belonged to those who were poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3). By inverting the standard, he was showing the kingdom of God is upside-down and inside-out. Those who are qualified to inherit the kingdom of God are those who know they are unqualified in and of themselves spiritually to do anything to earn their acceptance with God. The riches of heaven are given to the spiritually bankrupt, not the religious elite.

Jesus confirmed the inverted nature of his invitation at a dinner party with a bunch of tax collectors. The spiritually “healthy” had major problems that Jesus would be spending time in an intimate setting with such spiritually “sick” people. And yet, Jesus made it clear that he is not interested in the sacrifices of hard-working religious people, flexing their legalistic muscles. Rather, he came as a physician to heal those who were sin sick and had nothing to vouch for except sovereign mercy. As a subversive insult, he told the religious intellectuals to “go and learn what this means.” Apparently with all their learning, they had not learned the ways of God with men.

Finally, leading up to his invitation, Jesus expresses himself in prayer to the Father, thanking him that he has hidden “these things” from the wise and understanding but revealed them to “little children” (or babes). These things–the kingdom of God and the saving purposes of Christ–are a gracious revelation granted by the Father’s will to save those who are “child-like.” They are those who understand themselves to be needy, helpless, dependent, and with no accomplishments or successes to bring to the table. The only thing they can do is cling wholeheartedly with confidence and trust in the Father who loves them.

It is at this point Jesus makes the remarkable invitation, “Come to Me.”

Come those who are poor in spirit.
Come you who are sin sick and need a merciful great physician.
Come all who are helpless and needy, looking alone for the heavenly embrace in the arms of Jesus.

The invitation of Jesus inverts the invitation of the world. He invites us not because we meet a certain qualification or level of deservedness, but because we don’t. The scandalous grounds of Christ’s invitation is the sheer grace of God. Grace says to the poor in the Spirit, Jesus is rich in righteousness and will clothe you with his royal garments. Grace says to the spiritually sick, there is more mercy in the bloody wounds of Christ than there is sin in your wicked heart. Grace says to the helpless children, you will not be left as orphans in the world but have the right to be called “children of God” and adopted into His family. The grace of God alone is the hope of sinners, for when sin abounded, grace abounded all the more!

The great hymn “Come Ye Sinners” concludes with this marvelous truth:

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

The fitness, the qualification for Christ’s invitation is simply to feel your need of Him. It is to look away from yourself as though you had anything to warrant His invitation and to look toward the cross. Look to the cross, for that is where the gracious invitation is extended with arms open wide for sinners to know there is abundant pardon and full redemption in the life and death of our great Savior.

Story-Formed Disciple-Making

Our church has been working through the book of Exodus each Lord’s Day, and one of the things that continually strikes me is the emphasis God makes on story telling. Basically, God says “Here’s what I am going to do to bring glory to myself,” and following that explanation, He says, “Now you are to remember what I have done and tell it to your children and generations to come that they may know it as well.” The act belongs to God. The story telling belongs to us. God’s people are responsible to tell others what God has done for them. At the end of the day, faithfulness to God is a matter of stewardship to tell the story.

The Precedence

When God brought judgment upon Pharaoh, He declared to Moses,

“Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, 2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 10:1-2)

When God made provisions for his Passover, He gave the following instructions,

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.... You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped (Exodus 12:14, 24-27)

And when God instructed His people regarding the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, He added,

You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’  And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year (Exodus 13:8-10).

Remembering the story of what the Lord had done in bringing deliverance through the Exodus was central to the existence of the Israelites. They remember in order to tell it to others, especially their children and generations to come. Take a look at how Psalm 78 explains this importance:

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God (Psalm 78:5-8).

When the people of God failed to remember and be shaped by the story of their deliverance, we read the following words,

How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe, when he performed his signs in Egypt and his marvels in the fields of Zoan (Psalm 78:41-43).

I could go further in making the case for the importance of story telling and being story-formed, but these should suffice for now. It should be noted, however, that the acts performed were not only stories to be told but songs to be sung. Take the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 or how many of the Psalms (Bible’s hymnbook) were written to tell the story again and again (e.g., Psalm 78, Psalm 105-107).

The Practice

This emphasis of story-telling in Scripture is intended to make the case that we are a story-formed people. In the same way God’s people in the Old Testament were formed (literally) by the Exodus from Egypt and shaped by the remembering and retelling of that event, so too are God’s people in the New Covenant to be formed by the Exodus through the Cross of Christ and be shaped by remembering and retelling of that event.

Of course, the story is broader than the Exodus and the Cross of Christ (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration), but everything seen in this story points forward or backward to the world-transforming event of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The question we must ask ourselves is: How important is telling the story of the triumphs of Christ and being shaped by it? How necessary is being story-formed in our disciple-making? 

I’m convinced that being story-formed is far greater in importance than we have considered it to be. Discipleship tends to focus on practical how to’s and doctrinal categories, which I would argue are important. But I don’t see God telling His people to test folks on doctrinal precision. Rather, what I do see is God setting up for His people in both Old and New Testaments ways of being shaped and formed by the redemptive events that are retold by God’s people. Why the Lord’s Table? We are to remember regularly through eating bread and drinking wine our own Exodus from Egypt through the blood of the Lamb. The remembering is experiential, not just doctrinal. It should shape our identity and govern our lives.

I said earlier this year that I believe discipleship could simply be stated as the process where the story of the gospel rewrites the story of our lives. The more I read and understand how God raises up His children, the more convinced I am that such a brief definition could not easily be exhausted. In all our disciple-making, dear friends, let us be remembering the Story.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

The Startling Truth about Our Identity in Christ

Today was the start of baseball season in Southwest Florida. After opening ceremonies, my two boys played a double header as part of the festivities. It was the first time for my 5-year-old son to go head-to-head with the pitching machine. At his first at-bat, he surprised himself with a line drive past the third baseman, and I was super excited and proud of him. The following three at-bats did not fare too well, as he struck out all three times.

As someone who has always been highly competitive, I always want my boys to do excel in whatever they do, including playing baseball. The downside to that, and the temptation I have struggled to avoid, is responding to them based on their performance. If they perform well, they see the pleasure of their dad. If they make mistakes and struggle, they hear the disappointment of their dad (“C’mon son!”).

As a Christian who believes the gospel should permeate every area of my life, there are more and more blind spots that I’m learning to see more clearly. When it comes to baseball, I realized that my sincere attempts to make them better players was not honoring the gospel. My response to them was based on their performance (good works), and their identity as a baseball player was more dominant in their thinking than being my sons.

Today, I started to make a change and repent of this legalistic approach to coaching my boys. I want my boys to know, more than anything else, that they are my sons, and I love them. And that love is not based on what they do or do not do, but because of who they are. They are mine. So every time they get ready to play the game, I pull them aside and have a talk with them. Before when I stressed a litany of techniques, I am learning to look them eye-to-eye and tell them, “Son, I am so proud of you. No matter what happens, how well you play today does not change how much I love you and delight in being your dad. I just want you to have fun and enjoy the game.” After a kiss on the forehead, I sent them off to do their best, and the smile that began on my face transferred to a shy grin on theirs.

I reflected more this evening on how this relates to the Christian life in general. Paul is not afraid to tell Christians to fight the good fight, to run the race so as to win, and use other similar illustrations of going hard and excelling to your very best. But the performance of the Christian was not the source of Paul’s understanding of the Christian life. Rather, it was the fruit of an identify firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Salvation is not won by your good performance or lost by your bad performance; therefore, God’s approval and acceptance is not determined by what you do or do not do. Rather, salvation is based on Jesus’ righteousness and His good works that speaks on your behalf. Because of Jesus you are unconditionally accepted and loved with an everlasting love. God has given you His Spirit to remind you with every breath that you are a son (or daughter) of God, and He delights in you because of Jesus. And this is precisely what I want my kids to have mirrored before them in how I coach them in playing baseball.

Imagine how difficult growth in the Christian life would be if the foundation of our spirituality was based on our performance? When we think we do well, we feel loved; when we fail, we feel shamed. This kind of spiritual instability is not only debilitating; it is deadly.

But imagine if your Christian growth is grounded in your identity as a son of God, unconditionally loved and accepted because of Jesus? The pressures off to hit the home run everyday. Jesus did that for you. It’s okay to strike out, because God is not basing your relationship with Him on your batting average. You can grow as a Christian and excel in spiritual maturity, not out of fear that God may look down on you in shame and embarrassment, but because God looks on you with sheer delight and unconditional love. What I need every morning I wake is to know that I am a son of God, and my identity is forever secured because of who Jesus is and what Jesus did for me.

I believe my boys will enjoy the game more and play better, not because of increased pressure, fear of failure, or letting their dad down. No. They will play better because they know they are not merely baseball players; they are my sons, and I love them. They can run, play, strike out, and win the game, but the good performances and bad performances are not going to dictate how I treat them. How much differently would they treat the game of baseball if that was drilled into their thoughts and consciences?

The free grace and unconditional love of God is not a license to sin so that they may increase. Rather, they are the fuel and motivation to strive for holiness and godliness with all that is within me. True sanctification springs from the depths of gospel realities. And it is those gospel realities that should give form and function to every aspect of the Christian life, including when we say, “Play ball.”

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

Revisiting Discipleship (Fruit That Remains)

With the missional emphasis in the past decade, there has been a renewed emphasis in defining the mission of the church. The Great Commission is all about making disciples, but how do we do that? Within the missional genre of literature, there’s a growing stream of resources revisiting the practice of disciple-making, and I’m encouraged to see this take place.

Growing up, I only understood discipleship in one sense: discipleship training. That is the 5:00 PM time slot where the really dedicated church members attended church (that is, after Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, then discipleship training). During that time, I participated in things like Bible drill and youth choir. For all I knew, it was another period and program provided by the church that dedicated Christians should participate.

Going off to college, I did not understand the relationship of evangelism to discipleship, and I was making converts, not disciples. I would make it my goal to lead X number of people to Christ and was determined to do whatever it took to see that happen. When the goal was reached, I thought I was really getting somewhere as a Christian. But then I began to look back and realize that hardly, if any, of the people I led to Christ were discipled, growing, and flourishing in their relationship with God. There was little to to no “fruit that remains.”

It was “fruit that remains” that was a central concern to the ministry of the apostle Paul.

To the church in Corinth, he warned them not to believe in vain (1 Corinthians 15:2) and not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1).

To the church in Galatia, he was deeply concerned that he may have labored over them in vain due to their waffling on the gospel (Galatians 4:11).

To the church in Philippi, he pleaded with them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling so that “in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Philippians 2:16).

To the church in Thessalonica, he sent Timothy to this church facing persecution out of fear that their labor would be in vain (1 Thessalonians 3:5).

It is clear that one of Paul’s overarching concerns and fears is that his life and labor among the people of God would be found useless and bear no fruit in the end. If we were to embrace this kind of concern for the souls of men and women, how would this affect our evangelism and disciple-making? What measurables would need to change?

Whatever might be said on this topic, we are dealing with souls that will never die. We must hear the words of Jesus who said that we have been appointed to go and bear fruit and that fruit should remain (John 15:16). The Great Commission is not just about sinners being made Christians, but sinners made saints and ushered into the presence of God.

Perhaps one of the most glaring failures in evangelical life today is the absence of Paul’s concern that Christians remain faithful and finish strong to the end so that no one would “receive the grace of God in vain.” His concern was not so much how many were being converted in, but that not a single “child” in the faith would fail to make it to maturity. Like a father, he could not envision a single child orphaned and departing from the faith. Perhaps this is what Paul was talking about when he said “there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

Fathers don’t bring children into the world and leave them once they are born. Shepherds don’t ignore the one sheep leaving the ninety-nine. Soldiers don’t abandon the trenches when fellow comrades are in battle. Athletes don’t beat the air or run aimlessly when training others to win the prize. These are all illustration of discipleship from Scripture intended to remind us of the Great Commission. Make disciples. Run. Labor. Fight. Shepherd. Because all of them are people for Jesus shed his blood and appointed to bear fruit that remains.

Triperspectivalism in the Psalms

While working through the Psalms devotionally, I began to see a triperspectival pattern (to no one’s surprise) worth mentioning. A great example of this would be Psalms 71.

The psalmist begins with an emphasis on the Lord being his refuge. Starting with his present circumstance and situation, he describes the difficulties surrounding him and how the nearness of the Lord (his refuge, rock, fortress, etc.) governs how he responds and operates in such circumstances. Though the circumstances are big, serious, and grave, the psalmist kept going back to God as the King of his life and declaring He is bigger, stronger, and nearer.

The second focus of the psalmist is the Lord’s righteousness. In his situation, he pleads for God to respond on the basis of his righteousness (“in your righteousness deliver me and rescue me”). In summary form, the righteousness of God describes God’s unique character and sovereign work (“your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?”). When the psalmist remembers and declares the character and work of the Lord, it becomes normative and defines his life.

The third focus of the psalmist is the Lord’s redemption. Having seen and heard of the Lord’s righteous character and ways (righteousness), he longs to experience that in the ongoing redemptive work of the Lord in his life. He writes, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long….” When you experience redemption from the Lord, you cannot but respond with shouts of joy and songs of praise.

Together then, the Christian experience is learning to find hope and trust in God who is our refuge (situational), remembering the righteousness of God to experience renewal and revival (normative), and joyfully singing, praising, and telling of God’s redemptive work in your life (existential). The psalmist begins with his situation and says, because Christ is King, my circumstances does not have to rule his life. Jesus does. Knowing the temptation to default to unbelief where God becomes functionally non-existent in his life, the psalmist remembers the character and work of God. Because God reveals Himself through His Word, the true Prophet, we can orient our lives around the revelation of who God is and what He has done. Finally, the redemption of God brought through Christ the High Priest, not only can we know of the ways of God, we can experience it ourselves through the redemption He brings. Those who have entered into the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus are wrecked to a life of praising, shouting, and telling of all that God is for you in His Son Jesus. So, the flow looks like this:

Who God is » God’s self-revelation (righteousness) » normative
(prophet who defines our lives)
What God has done » God’s saving work (redemption) » existential
(priest who redeems our lives)
Why that matters » God’s presence and promises (refuge) » situational
(king who rules our lives)

I am not trying to impose a philosophical or epistemological construct over the text of Scripture; rather, I am simply trying to draw out what is there with a Christocentric hermeneutic in both form and substance. At least for me, it has helped me see Jesus and rejoice in the God who is altogether righteous, whose redemption makes my heart sing, and whose presence causes me to trust and hope no matter the situation.

Disciple-Making and the Promises of God

Every Christian is a disciple of Jesus. It’s our new identity. Our calling is to make disciples of Jesus. It’s our purpose and mission. When we live in our identity and live out our purpose, we are disciples of Jesus who make more disciples of Jesus. In short, we are disciple-making disciples.

One of the great encouragements we have to live as disciple-making disciples is the powerful promises of God. They are God’s provision to keep us from living in unbelief. Have you ever considered how the Great Commission is sandwiched with the power and promise of Jesus?

Jesus begins, “All authority (power) in heaven and earth has been given to me.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Everything that ever existed or will exist is subject to Me. Nothing is too hard for me.” Therefore (“because I’ve made this provision FOR YOU”), go and make disciples. The power of Jesus entails a promise in making disciples that no heart is too hard, no sinners is so enslaved, no eyes are so blind that Jesus can, with a word, utterly and entirely save and transform their life. Let Saul of Tarsus enter your mind, or Lydia, or Matthew, or perhaps even your own life.

Jesus ends, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” There will be moments in living for Jesus that you feel all alone. Taking up your cross may mean laying down everything and losing everyone that liked the old you (not the one that makes much of Jesus). But Jesus, knowing the challenges we will face, gives us greater comfort to overcome those challenges. Internally, we experience the promise of Jesus through the witness of the Spirit who again and again testifies of our adoption into the family of God. When we proclaim the good news to sinners and face being ostracized, the same Spirit who empowers us to witness is the same one who comforts us with the adoption love of God, crying out “Abba, Father!” Externally, we experience the promise of Jesus through the good hand of our providential God. We know that God does all things well and orchestrates the events and circumstances of our lives for His glory and our good. Therefore, we can enter the unknown not having to know what the future beholds, but rather risk our lives in making disciples because the One who holds the future knows my name.

Let me give one other example of the promises of God for making disciples.

Think of the kindness of God that He would illustrate His promises through ordinary things we see every day. How often do you see birds in the air? How often do you see grass on the ground? Did you know that birds and grass are ours to see the promises of God? How different would our lives be if every time we say a bird or blade of grass, what came to our mind was, “Promise! Promise! Promise!”?

Yet when we are living with eyes of faith, we will indeed see it the way Jesus taught us. Could it be the reason we are not making disciples of Jesus is because we fail to believe the promises and power of God? Why were they given to us? According to Jesus, they were given so that we would not get preoccupied with our lives but rather the kingdom of God. Unbelievers worry about daily provisions of what they will eat and what they will wear. Disciples of Jesus have a heavenly Father who makes provision for these things, and His promise is that “all these things will be added unto you” when you “seek first the kingdom of God.” The promise that “all these things (the legitimate stuff that often keeps us from making disciples) will be added unto you” should liberate us to live sacrificially and single-mindedly in pursuit of the kingdom of God. And how often do we need to believe that promise? Every time we see a bird flapping in the air or a blade of grass blowing in the wind.

A failure to make disciples isn’t just disobedience to Jesus, but it is unbelief in the power and promises of God. The purpose of God for our lives (making disciples) was sandwiched between these two realities because they were intended to press down on our purpose and smother us with Jesus’ omnipotence and nearness. May God give us eyes of faith to see the world the way Jesus intended it and cause to join Him in the mission of seeing His kingdom come through the making of disciples through the power of His promises.