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.

Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 6

[Part 1] Overview
[Part 2] Set Up
[Part 3] Marking Propositions
[Part 4] Labeling
[Part 5] Connections

The past five posts in this mini-series is intended to give very simple, practical steps to diagramming a text to gain a deeper understanding of the Bible. A disciple needs to be skilled in all three aspects of Bible study: observation, interpretation, and application. This mini-series focuses on the first aspect of observation, with the intention of equipping disciples of becoming better “seers” of the text.

The question I want to answer in this post is how to implement this kind of studied approach to Scripture in the disciple-making process. Can any Christian do this? Does this require too much time to feasibly incorporate this in the life of a disciple of Jesus? This looks important for pastors or teachers, but is it really important for every disciple of Jesus to put into practice?

A disciple is a follower or learner. It is true that our learning incorporates all of life (behavior, attitude, practices, relationships, worldview, etc.), but it is certainly not less than learning Scripture. In fact, I don’t believe the other aspects of learning are capable of becoming normative apart from learning Scripture well. The reason for this is because Scripture, rightly understood, will apply to all of the other areas of learning how to be a Christian. In other words, Scripture is not just a manual of Christian truth, but it is also a means of life transformation.

My recommendation for incorporating this method as a regular rhythm of Bible intake is to begin with a small book of the Bible. If your Bible breaks down passages in paragraphs, use those paragraphs as the building blocks of your sentence diagramming. In order to not overwhelm your study, simply take one paragraph at a time, meaning you will likely only do 1-2 paragraphs each week. That may not sound like much, but when you incorporate biblical mediation, prayer, and even memorization, you will have a saturation of Scripture over a sustained period of time that will be with you for good.

Here is how I recommend employing sentence diagramming over the course of a week and in context of disciple-making:

Day 1: Determine the text you plan on studying, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in your study
Day 2: Set up your document for diagramming (or journal if you don’t use a computer) (see part 2)
Day 3: Determine propositions, coordinate and subordinate clauses (see part 3)
Day 4: Label/classify the clauses and propositions (see part 4)
Day 5: Make connections and mark observations (see part 5)
Day 6: Meditate on the text, assimilating observations
Day 7: Meet with discipler to share insights of what you learned with one another

Each day, you should expect to spend roughly 20-30 minutes doing the work. As with anything, the more you do it, the more natural it will come and the more quickly you will make observations/connections. Remember, the end goal is not to have a well-marked up text properly diagrammed. The goal is to transition to interpreting what you have seen and drive the meaning of the text to shape the meaning of our lives (application). Could it be that our lives are not being shaped by God’s Word to the degree they ought? Could it be our lack of life transformation is due to lack of truly understanding Scripture? Could our lack of understanding Scripture be due to a lack of properly handling and seeing what God has made known to us in His Word?

If I can be of any more practical help to any of you in this process, let me know. I am a learner, too. We’re in this together. :) And what I desire, as explained in my original tweet, is that disciples of Jesus would be better equipped to handle God’s Word. Those who know God best (through His Word) are most adequately equipped to speak well of Him to others. The more you see and hear, the more you will have to speak to others. May God open our eyes and ears, and loose our tongues to speak much of Him!

Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 5

As for sentence diagramming, we have come to what I would consider the final part as “seers” (observation) of the text. After the relationship of propositions have been made (Part 4), I follow up with marking connections, emphasis, and key words in a text. There are several things specifically I’m looking for here:

  • Things emphasized in the text
  • Things repeated in the text
  • Things related in the text (connections)
  • Things set in comparison or contrast in the text (like/unlike)
  • Things connected sequentially or in the flow of logic
Going back to our sample text in 1 John 1, here is how I marked up the text (note: I used an iPad app to do this digitally for blogging purposes, but I normally print out the sheet at step 4 and do step 5 with pen and highlighters).

As you can see, I tried to put some of the observations together below the line. As for the markings and the aforementioned bullet points….

  • Things emphasized – fellowship with God, Jesus as “life,” God as “light,” sin as darkness/deception
  • Things repeated – what was seen, heard, touched; light/darkness, sin/lying
  • Things related – the word of life-eternal life-that which was from the beginning; what was manifested to us-we proclaimed to you; light-truth; darkness-deception; confession-cleaning-communion
  • Things set in comparison/contrast – light v. darkness; truth v. deception; saying v. doing; cleansed from all sin v. saying have no sin; two ways to live (deception or repentance)
  • Things in sequence/logical flow – ears, ears, and hands leads to mouth (experience leads to proclamation); vertical fellowship with God is grounds of horizontal fellowship with others; fellowship with God is conditioned upon a life a repentance and faith, rather than performance-based self-righteousness; God is the standard, the means, and the goal of our fellowship with one another (triperspectivally speaking); his word in us will reveal our real self-knowledge as sinners which leads to a life of confession and repentance which leads to walking in the light which leads to blood-bought fellowship of redeemed sinners called to be saints

There’s more that I point out in my markings than what I just bulleted, and if you have some time, take a look at them. Perhaps you see some things I did not see in the text. I tried to use different colors and markings in order to separate the things I saw, along with lines to help show the connections in the thought flow.

Now that this has been done, where do we go from here? I’d like to do a few things: (1) I’d like to show how this can be worked out as a regularly rhythm of disciple-making by taking normal Bible intake disciplines and incorporating them here; (2) I’d like to show how helpful this level of engaging the text is for understanding the meaning of the text (biblical interpretation). As I said earlier, the better “seer” you are of the text, the better interpreter you will be. The goal is not to have a well-marked up text; the goal is to have a thoroughly transformed life by applying the truth of God’s Word to every facet of our existence. I don’t think that goal is possible with a superficial reading of Scripture. Sentence diagramming and thought flow examination gives us training wheels for better study of Scripture, employing other disciplines of Bible intake (meditation) and other means of grace (prayer, community, etc.) in the process.

In my next post, I will try to show how this process can become a normal pattern of Bible intake and can be done with others so that those you disciple can have a stronger grasp of Scripture.

Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 4

So far, we have set up the diagramming template (part 2) and marked propositions along with coordinate and subordinate clauses. In this post, I simply want to explain the relationship between the clauses with regard to the propositions. Again, we are not diagramming grammar (words); rather, we are diagramming concepts/idea (propositions), so the key is not so much how words relate to one another as how propositions relate to one another.

Let me say from the outset that beginners in sentence diagramming may find this step of labeling propositions over their head. Let me encourage you to not give up or bypass this step entirely. You may need to work yourself into learning these labels and how to classify clauses, and no one becomes experienced in doing this overnight. So as a word of caution and exhortation, let me say I recognize this may be a sticking point for some. My hope is that you would press on and benefit from the massaging these labels in your thinking because, over time, they will become natural in your thinking whether you are diagramming a text or simply reading it devotionally.

There are basically ten different types of propositions. I first learned of these propositions from Dr. Jonathan Pennington while in seminary, who also employed Richard Young’s Intermediate New Testament Greek book. Here are the ten labels/classifications for clauses/propositions.

10 Classifications for Clauses/Propositions

1. Temporal – Describes the time or occasion when the proposition will occur. A temporal clause answers the question “when?” || Key Words: when, while

2. Manner/Means – Describes the means or the manner in which the proposition is carried out. || Key Words: by, through

3. Grounds – Describes the cause, reason, or grounds for the proposition or action.|| Key Words: because, since, for

4. Inference –  Describes the logical conclusion or result that comes from a previous proposition. || Key Words: therefore, thus, consequently

5. Purpose – Describes the purpose for a proposition or action. They answer the question “why?” || Key Words: to, in order that, so that

6. Result – Describes result/outcome of the proposition. || Key Words: so that, with the result that

7. Condition & Corollary – This is a paired set of labels that should be used together. Together a pair of condition-corollary phrases describes a potential condition for the proposition or action to occur. These will very often appear in the form of an “if . . . then” clause, though not always. || Key Words: “If…then”

8. Concessive – Describes a circumstance in spite of the proposition or action. || Key Words: though, although, yet, but

9. Content – A content clause gives another proposition that describes or qualifies a preceding one. || Key Words: that, lest

10. Description/Explanation – A classification for clauses not easily definable with other categories but modifies a proposition with additional information (either by describing or explaining the proposition).

Now let’s go back to 1 John 1 again. In the first image, I showed the text simply copy, pasted, and formatted in a word document. The section image shows how I broke down the text in propositions, Now in the image below, I show the relationship between the propositions with the above classifications. Note: P=proposition | C=coordinate clause | S=subordinate clause.

In this passage, there’s a lot of similarity between propositions. In other words, there’s a rhythm of sorts in the thought flow of the text. As I mentioned in my original post, the goal is to make disciples greater “seers” of God’s Word. The better you “observe” the text, the better you should be able to interpret the meaning of the text. Ultimately, faithfulness in understanding God’s Word becomes fertile ground for life transformation and provides multiple action points for applying truth to others based on what has been revealed in Scripture.

The next step I take in sentence diagramming is marking up the document in order to illuminate observations. Once those observations are visibly marked, I conclude my observations by summarizing what I have seen from the text and move to interpretation (determining the meaning of the text). This step will come in my next post.

Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 3

Continuing in this mini-series on sentence diagramming, I want to keep the focus on two things: (a) make it as simple and understandable as possible and (b) explain why this is important to the disciple-making process. There are more technical ways for breaking down texts of Scripture, but I will leave that for your Greek syntax and exegesis class in seminary. :) The goal behind this mini-series is to help disciple makers employ a very practical method for training believers to handle Scripture, consequently bringing greater confidence and consistency in applying it to their lives.

In the previous post, I explained the basic set up for sentence diagramming. In this post, I want to explain propositions and their relationship to one another. Remember, a proposition is simply a phrase that makes an assertion or point, and a verse may have several propositions therein. Coordinate clauses are propositions of equal importance. Subordinate clauses are propositions that modify or explain the lead proposition. Knowing the difference between the two will determine how you diagram a sentence and learn the thought flow of the text. To be clear, we are not seeking to diagram the grammar of the text (relationship between words); rather, we are diagramming the concepts/ideas in the text (relationship between propositions).

Once the document is set up (see part 2), the fun begins.

  1. Start with putting the main clause/proposition in the upper left hand corner of your document/paper.
  2. Indent all subordinate clauses.
  3. Line up all coordinate clauses.
  4. Connect related main clauses.
  5. Finally, explain the relation between clauses/propositions.

One point should be made here. You are going to have to make subjective calls on whether propositions or subordinate or coordinate clauses. The important thing is that you are consistent throughout your diagramming and focus on the flow of the text (there is no inerrant or perfect sentence diagramming!). The benefit of using a word processor is that you can make changes rather easy in the diagramming process. Once the propositions are diagrammed by coordinate and subordinate clauses, the next step is to determine the relationship between them.

Before we jump to learning the various types of coordinate and subordinate clauses, let’s revisit 1 John 1 from my last post and update the sentence diagramming. What you will see is how I determined coordinate and subordinate clauses.

So that I don’t unload everything all at once, part 4 will focus on explaining the relationship between clauses now that we have the idea/thought flow diagrammed.

Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 2

In his “high priestly prayer,” Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). A disciple of Jesus simply cannot function apart from the Spirit and the Word. And I would argue that the Spirit is not impressed by mystical attempts of understanding the Bible. We are to love God with all our minds. That means we should expect to exercise our minds in focused engagement of the Scripture the Holy Spirit inspired to put in words, sentences, paragraphs, and books. A mystical approach to Scripture, in my opinion, undermines the Spirit’s intention of communication of God’s thoughts through words and ultimately divorces the instrumentality of the Word from the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Disciples of Jesus are not intellectual elites nor are they anti-intellectual. The Bible is not gnostic. There are no codes to decipher. I believe in the perspicuity and clarity of Scripture, but that does not mean the meaning of the text is always on the surface. God expects us to do work. The work of the disciple is to rightly handle the Word of God in order to share it and explain it to others that they may know and understand God. We should discourage shortcuts to Scripture, like study Bibles which make it hard to know the difference between the inspired, infallible text above the line and uninspired, fallible text of a favorite teacher below the line. We should strive against anti-intellectualism by challenging disciples of Jesus to use the mind God has given them to think God’s thoughts after Him.

The Bible is a compilation of books, which are a compilation of paragraphs, which are a compilation of sentences, which are a compilation of words. The basic building block for understanding a text is a proposition, which is simply a phrase making an assertion or point. One verse may have several propositions. The key to becoming a good “seer” of Scripture (observation) is by discovering the various propositions in a text and their relation to one another. In doing so, a disciple learns how to see what the author is saying and how he is seeking to make his point. The practice of sentence diagramming, then, is to simply delineate the propositions in a text, understand their relationship to one another, and from there discover the meaning in the text.

Where to Begin

So you’re new to this, and you want to learn how to dig into texts and see more of God’s Word through sentence diagramming. Where should you start? Here’s how I encourage you to begin.

1. Take a small book of the Bible like 1 John 1 or Philippians 1 or Galatians 1 as the focus of your study. Eventually, you want to work through the entire book paragraph by paragraph, having diagrammed the thought flow of the text.

2. I recommend that you use a computer and word processor for the first half of sentence diagramming. Here’s how I set up sentence diagramming through MS Word.

  1. Open a new document. Set margins at 0.6 on all sides for maximum space allowed in document.
  2. Copy and paste from online Bible the text you are studying (I use ESV Bible online). Clean up the formatting by making all the font the same  (I use Helvetica) as well as size (I use 11 or 12 point size should work).
  3. For marking purposes, make line spacing either 1.5 or 2.0 (double space). To do this simply select all the text, go to format » paragraph » line spacing » 1.5 and you should be good.
  4. Start by separating each verse on separate lines (each verse should begin on far left of the page).

Once you are finished, the document should look like this…

The set up part at first may seem to take a little bit of time, but after doing it a couple of times, you can do it rather quickly. Next comes the part of breaking down the verses in propositions and seeing the relationship between them.

Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 1

Since May, I have been leading a disciple-making training at Grace, and for the past six weeks the focus has been on the various ways to take in God’s Word (hearing, reading, memorizing, meditating, and studying). When it comes to the study of Scripture, the most popular approach is the “inductive” method, which focuses on (1) observation, (2) interpretation, and (3) application. The goal of Bible intake should be life transformation, which is the goal of disciple-making. So, it makes sense then, that disciples should have a solid grasp of studying Scripture on their own.

In simple terms, better observations of the text lead to more faithful interpretation of the text, which should lead to greater application of God’s Word for the transformation of our lives. If I want disciples to be transformed by the Word, then it stands to reason that I must begin with observation – showing them how to be good “seers” of the text. Disciples should learn, for instance, to look for things emphasized, things related, things repeated, things alike or unlike, etc. They should  see logical and grammatical connections in the flow of an argument, including main verbs, conjunctions, prepositions, etc. Could stuff so rudimentary be really essential to the disciple’s goal of becoming more like Jesus? I believe so.

One of the most practical ways of deepening my study of Scripture in the area of observation has been sentence diagramming for the purpose of observing the thought flow of the text. It is “rightly dividing the word of truth” with training wheels. In fact, I never preach or teach a passage without the first step of diagramming a text. What that said, I know the temptation is to think such a method is reserved for pastors or those responsible for leading the church in pastoral ministry. I would like to challenge that line of thinking and encourage all believers, especially those intentionally seeking to be reproducing disciples of Jesus to seriously consider employing sentence diagramming for greater Bible intake, ultimately leading to greater life transformation through the Spirit’s work through His Word.

In the follow-up blogposts, I will give the basics for doing this and how to do it with others, providing some examples I’m currently working through with others in my disciple-making class. I had several folks on Twitter and Facebook ask specifically for resources and tips on how to do this, and my hope is these articles will serve your purposes of knowing God’s Word and applying it to your life.

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. Week one, in which this excerpt is derived, can be downloaded for free.

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.

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.

Blind to Our Blindness

Paul Tripp, in his book Sex & Money, says the following:

“We would all like to think that no one knows our hearts better than we do. We would like to believe that others may be self-deceived, but we are not. It’s simply not true. Since sin is in its essence deceptive, as long as sin lives in our hearts, we will tend to be blind to the true condition of our hearts. But more must be said. Not only will we be blind to our hearts; we will be blind to our blindness, thinking we see when we really don’t. To add to this, we will participate in our own blindness. Because of self-righteousness of sin, we will work to make ourselves feel good about what is not good or believe that the problem is not, in fact, us.”

When I came across this paragraph this morning, I was struck by the need for gospel-centered community–a truly counter-cultural community. The worldly culture tells us that the center of our problems are out there, but the gospel tells us that the problem lies in our hearts. Only the gospel can bring transformation from within, and as long as wrongly diagnose the location of the disease, we will fail to access the cure.

Only a true grasp of the gospel can liberate us from the lies we have told ourselves. Not only are we  dishonest about our sin and neediness, but we are not fearful or closed off from inviting others to being honest with themselves and ourselves as well. Tripp is right. We participate in “the blind leading the blind” when we refuse to see sin rightly and live as a community that makes self-atonement by pretending and performing in attempts to circumvent the power of the gospel to change our lives. How blind are we? We would rather live in the chains of self-deception through the lens of pride than the freedom of self-discovery through the lens of Scripture.

A gospel-centered community is counter-cultural because it identifies the real problem (our hearts) and has the only, lasting cure to solve it (the gospel). Instead of pretending to be self-righteous, we give permission and invite others to help us change by exposing self-deception and blind spots in a community radically shaped by grace and governed by truth. I am not who I am in my pride and self-deception. I am who I am in Christ and my acceptance through his imputed righteousness and substitutionary death on the cross. The challenge is to live in latter through repenting of the former, and the counter-cultural community changed by the gospel will serve as the canvas upon which the sunrise of God’s Word illuminates our lives.

When I know my Sin-bearer drank the bitter cup and atoned for every last one of my sins, why should I hide? What could be known about me that is not already covered in the blood? When I know that God’s righteous judgment of my sin was carried out on His Son in my place on that cursed tree, I live in the fact that there is no condemnation for me, and no accusation of the enemy can silence the Advocate whose precious blood speaks for me. If these truths are ruling the affections of our hearts, then we can live as a people who invite truth in the place of deception, believing that the truth will set us free.

Lord, He Whom You Love is Ill

In my reading of John 11 this morning, this phrase just landed on me. Mary and Martha appealed to Jesus for help on account of his love for Lazarus. Indeed, Jesus loved him deeply. Twice we read in this account that Jesus was “deeply moved,” and sandwiched between these two references is the simple verse that says, “Jesus wept.” Jesus was not indifferent about the sickness of Lazarus and the sorrow of Mary and Martha.

But what strikes me even more, is that though we cannot plumb the depths of Jesus’ love, His commitment to His glory is even deeper.

Both Mary and Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would have not died” (Martha v. 21; Mary v. 32). The implication is, “Jesus you say you love us, and we know that you love Lazarus, but if you really loved him, you would not have let him die.” Jesus’ love was challenged and concluded to be ineffective in meeting their urgent needs. Not only did Jesus’ dear friends question him, but so did several others who said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also kept this man from dying?” (v. 37) Clearly, the charge is that Jesus didn’t love Lazarus like he loved the blind man whom he healed. Jesus’ love/compassion and power/authority were not esteemed to say the least.

Jesus was not so concerned about vindicating the depths of His love as much as revealing His glory. This might sound selfish, but actually is the most loving thing Jesus could have done for them. The revelation of His glory in the resurrection of Lazarus was for the purpose that they may believe and be saved. Jesus told his disciples, “for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” Yes, the death of Lazarus was “for the glory of God” (v. 4), but such glory is manifested so that faith might be born in the hearts of unbelieving sinners. For your sake. For your need to believe where there is unbelief. Jesus reminded Martha that “if you believed you would see the glory of God” (v. 40). This is not to say that Lazarus was simply a tool for Jesus’ glorious self-revelation as the resurrection and the life. Jesus deeply loved Lazarus and wept over him. Yet, in the depths of his sorrow, Jesus was working a deeper work of glory so that spiritual life might be born in the hearts of those spiritually dead in sin.

Jesus’ mission to reveal His glory and save sinners is undeterred, even in the most emotionally disturbing situations of his life. Jesus is not callous or cold. As John wrote, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (v. 5), but Jesus’ passion for His glory was a deeper motivation. This was confirmed when, upon hearing the news of Lazarus serious illness, Jesus chose to delay his arrival rather than hurry along (“he stayed two days longer in the place where he was”). Jesus comes across as an insensitive jerk if you take it out of context. He makes it unmistakably clear that the driving principle of his life was the glory of God revealed through the life and work of the Son of God to the end that sinners might believe and be saved.

Oh, that we might know the love of Jesus Christ!
But all the more, oh that we might see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!

In love, God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. Through the life, death, and resurrection God makes this happen. The report from heaven is, “Lord, those whom you love are lost and undone, hopeless and helpless, dead in sin.” And the response is the same. “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” The love of God is profoundly significant and central, but it is not ultimate. The glory of God is.

That day when Jesus wept and cried aloud over the death of Lazarus, the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But on that dark day when Jesus was led up to Golgotha to do battle with death and hell, Jesus wept and cried aloud with depths no man has ever known. And every believing sinner who has found resurrected life in the death of Jesus can confidently say, “See how he loved me!” Jesus took my sin sickness and curse of death and carried away that I might know life abundant and everlasting. And it was for our sake Jesus was glad to be there, enduring the cross and despising its shame, that we see the glory of God and believe in Jesus, whose death is our death, and whose life is our life, and whose love is ours to embrace.

For he whom the Lord loved was once dead, but now he is alive by the power of his resurrection.

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.

What We Can Learn from the Transfiguration

I’ve been slowly working through the Gospel of Luke, reading, and rereading chapters and focusing on various sections at a time. This morning, I focused on Luke 9:28-36, the passage on the transfiguration of Jesus. As I reflected on this text, I realized that what was happening was a heavenly form of gospel community, with God the Father, God the Son, Moses, Elijah, and Peter, James, and John.

What I found particularly impacting to me in this text was the topic of the community discussion. Verse 30 says that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus, and the centerpiece of that discussion was “his departure” or exodus through the cross. Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) are figureheads of redemptive history up until the time of Jesus, and much like all of the Scriptures, they made the conversation about Jesus and His work on the cross.

Gospel communities can learn much from this conversation. We can learn from Moses and Elijah that all of Scripture testifies about Jesus (Luke 24:27). Moses and Elijah knew this. They were not interested in talking about types and shadows; they were interested in what those types and shadows pointed to–Jesus. This in no way diminishes Old Testament Scripture or the role Moses and Elijah played in redemptive history. In fact, it heightens it, knowing their stories are interwoven in the bigger story of God’s redemptive purposes in history culminating in Christ.

But not only does it culminate in Christ, it climaxes in Christ. When the cloud overtook the disciples, and God chose to speak, the Father declared that it is all about His beloved Son. And when God spoke, Jesus was all alone–alone because there is no one else like Him. Alone because Jesus has supremacy over all things and superior to all prophets, kings, and priests. Alone because Jesus is preeminent and holds a place in history that demands our unconditional loyalty and submission as Lord and King.

Moses spoke about Jesus. Elijah spoke about Jesus. The Father spoke about Jesus and gave a heavenly charge to everyone else to listen to Jesus. At no other point in the earthly life of Jesus was there a more heavenly moment, and it is evident to everyone that this community was all about Jesus. In fact, when Peter wanted to make tents for Elijah and Moses was when they disappeared, leaving them with no one but Jesus.

As simple as it may sound, what we can learn from the Transfiguration is this: Christian community that pleases the Father and honors His Word is all about Jesus–who He is, what He has done, and what that matters. Christian community is preoccupied with Jesus because heaven is preoccupied with Jesus. We don’t get over Jesus. We are never bored with Jesus. We don’t keep silent about Jesus. We don’t change the channel or turn it down. Instead, we rediscover again and again by the Spirit’s work in our lives more and more the beauty and brilliance of our Savior. To the degree that our conversations center on Jesus, we can say we functionally have a gospel community. To the degree that we adore and treasure Jesus, we can keep our community from lesser lovers and broken cisterns.

If we could have a conversation today with the greatest figures in the history of redemption, they would be talking about Jesus–His life, death, and resurrection. But if people could have a conversation today with you and me, what would we what we want to talk about?

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.